North Korea is known as the Hermit Kingdom for good reason. Of all the countries of the world, North Korea lives in isolation more than any other. They are one of the last remaining communist nations and under the strict control of Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un. Unfortunately, North Korea is seen largely for severe poverty and even extreme hunger for millions of its citizens. The living conditions of millions in North Korea fall far below the standards of basic human rights. While there are those in North Korea that live a better lifestyle and are considered more elite, there is far more extreme poverty.
But over the decades, children have grown to believe that their supreme leader is something of a god and worthy of their praise and adoration. These children are brought up in homes that display the pictures of their supreme leader, his father and grandfather. They are brainwashed into thinking that they are the ideal of a perfect society. It all starts with the children of North Korea and continues generation by generation. Many have defected to South Korea and realized that their lives could be better elsewhere, but most continue living their lives as if it is as good as it gets. Here are 15 creepy photographs of North Korean children that will leave you absolutely speechless!
15. School Children Given Jump Rope and Corn Soup
In 2012, when Kim Jong-un took control of the country after the death of his father Kim Jong-il, he wasn’t able to provide as much as he wanted. For a man that is thought to be a god and provider for his people, the horrible food shortages and weak economy he faced didn’t allow him to do much except provide each child with a jump rope and a bowl of corn soup. The photograph above shows children sitting in what appears to be a school room. It is very clear that the children are malnourished and unclean. Poverty exists in every country of the world, as does hunger, but when 10 million people (in a country with 22 million people total) live on less than a dollar a day, it seems to be a horrible disaster.
14. Living Outside Pyongyang is More Difficult
Pyongyang is the capital of North Korea and the vast majority of the country’s resources go to the city and its residents. Outside of Pyongyang, life is much more difficult. This picture shows two children obviously malnourished and without proper clothing and hygiene. Outside of the capital, electricity is less reliable and conditions are very poor. Seeing sights like this are unfortunately very common. Even in Pyongyang, life is not perfect for everyone, though because this is the most visible area for tourists, the supreme leader makes certain that its residents are more properly fed with extra amenities. But 90 percent of the population of North Korea lives outside the capital and relies on black markets to supplement the government rations they receive. Children like this living in poverty is a much more common tale than in many other places in the world.
13. Military Service is Required
In North Korea, it is required of every male to serve the military. Selected conscription is also required for certain females. Children are also required to train in preparation for military activity on weekends as part of youth training programs. Children like this little boy will often wear costumes like this that look identical to military uniforms, seeing military service in the North Korean Army as a grand honor. The military is by far, the driving force of the country and a source of pride for all its citizens. Military service is required for a minimum of ten years and is viewed as an obligation as well as an honor. The boy pictured does not appear to be malnourished and most likely comes from a more privileged family living in Pyongyang.
12. Children’s Playtime
This picture shows a little boy with what looks like a gun! It is believed that the gun is a toy, but we can’t be completely sure. What we do know is that kids in North Korea do not get a whole lot of the extras that are so plentiful in most other parts of the world. North Korea relies on almost all of its imports from China, this includes clothing, toys and other basic needs. These boys are sitting on a bridge overlooking the water and are likely just passing some time, although there’s no telling what they have going on in their lives. You will also notice that everyone in North Korea selects a haircut that is pre-approved by the government. This is the same for both men and women.
11. Poverty in the Extreme
The word creepy does not quite do justice to this horrific photograph. While there is poverty in every country of the world, photographs like this are highly uncommon. This shows the level of hunger many in North Korea face each and every day. These children are highly malnourished and living in conditions that are not close to appropriate. Millions die from starvation each year in North Korea, although the exact count is not accurate given the lack of statistics available. The North Korean government (officially called the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) releases greatly exaggerated and highly inaccurate data to make them look to be in a better position than in reality. Surely the supreme leader does not wish this upon any of his citizens, but unfortunately, this tale is far too common.
10. Young Men in Military Training
As mentioned, youth organizations exist to begin training young men in the ways of military service before conscription in the military is required. Men are required to join the military at the age of 17 and are required to serve a minimum of ten years. This picture shows young boys dressed identically, with identically shaved heads, obviously highly interested in whatever was being presented to them. Boys take their training very seriously and the government believes that it is of the highest importance to instill a sense of honor in military service. Though, life is not easy for all those in the military, as they are forced to provide labor for a variety of governmental construction projects. Because of falling troop numbers, the government has recently instituted a voluntary extension program of military service.
9. Musical and Arts Training
Several Asian countries are known for their focus on training in the arts. Both North and South Korea have a very rich musical history and for the more elite families living in Pyongyang, training children in various arts is available. Children are often called upon to entertain the supreme leader and other governmental officials as well as visiting dignitaries from outside the country. The government sees the showcase of children like the boy pictured above as a way to portray happy, healthy and privileged youth as well as superior educational opportunities the country provides. Presentations like this are also broadcast on North Korean television as a form of propaganda for its own citizenship. There is nothing wrong with any of this, but it is quite sad that such great opportunities are not available for all North Korean children.
8. Yeonmi Park
Yeonmi Park is a well known North Korean defector, who escaped to China in 2007. Much of what the world knows about what happens in North Korea comes from information provided by defectors. Over the years, more and more people escape the country, realizing that there are more opportunities in other places. The girl pictured above, Yeonmi Park fell victim to human trafficking once outside of North Korea, but was able to escape and eventually settle in South Korea. She speaks about her father who was arrested for illegal trading (which he was forced to do because of famine and economic hardship) and realized that they could not live their lives under the oppressive Kim Dynasty. She is now a human rights activist and works for the rights of those living in North Korea.
7. Extreme Famine
Rationing is not now, nor has it been new to the people of North Korea for many, many years. But between the years of 1994 and 1998, the country encountered the worst period of famine in their history. It is believed that as many as 3.5 million people died as a result of hunger related conditions during this period. In a country with approximately 22 million, this was an absolutely devastating toll. The food shortage occurred as a result of lost support from the Soviet Union as well as periods of extreme drought in North Korea. The crisis became so bad that the country began to suggest ways to introduce bark and leaves into dietary requirements to sustain themselves. While still not ideal, North Korea’s famine has improved since the 1990s and is more closely aligned with other developing nations.
6. Educational Opportunity
Images like in this picture show a classroom of seemingly privileged children in North Korea. They are well clothed and appear to be sufficiently fed and cleaned. Another indicator of their privilege is that they have educational materials sitting in front of them at their tables. In the United States, even the poorest public schools have smaller class sizes and more available resources. Obviously, in Pyongyang, there are more opportunities for education and educational resources as compared to other rural areas in the country. But the availability of computers is much more limited in North Korea, as are many different curricular materials and resources that other countries take for granted. That is not to say that education is not important to the government, as they boast a near 100 percent literacy rate.
5. The Forgotten Citizens
The only people the government wants to show you are the select few that get the most resources. This is why any and all visitors to the country are strictly monitored and escorted to and from all places. Pictures like this are strictly forbidden and journalists risk their lives to take such photographs and attempt to take them out of the country. Sadly, children like this go to bed sick and hungry without anything resembling comfort. The poor of North Korea have no way out of their station in life and see no hope for their futures. For these children, they grow up only with the hope of a better life serving in the military. So much uncertainty and fear of what will happen to them is sadly very common in North Korea for the poor underprivileged.
4. Importance of Korean Tradition
The North Koreans do not consider South Korea to be a separate country. They still believe their war to be continuing with the South and simply “on hold.” But Korean history and tradition belongs to both the North and South and this history is rich and beautiful. The privileged children of North Korea have the opportunity (and the obligation) to study the music and dance traditions of their people. As you can see, these very young children are impeccably dressed in traditional garments and learning dances and songs. Few children in the country have the luxury of these opportunities, but for those that do, their parents take great pride in the training for traditional Korean music, art and dance. It is their belief that the supreme leader has made all of this possible for them and their family.
3. Perfect Uniformity
One of the more shocking things to Western world people taking a look at North Korean culture is to see the concept of uniformity. From everything to hairstyles to clothing, synchronization and uniformity is very important to many Asian cultures. This is no different in North Korea. Scenes like the one above with young ladies singing are very common in Pyongyang. For government officials and the elite, performances like this display the great talent of many North Koreans. Note that they are nearly identical in height and build, with exactly the same clothing! This uniformity is not limited to just entertainment and art. Grand parades with the army moving in lock step are common in Pyongyang as well, showcasing synchronized “perfection” as seen by the supreme leader and government officials.
2. Not Exactly Little Debbie
The Western world is used to more food than we need for sure. Many developing countries beyond just North Korea have a lack of variety when it comes to food. Images like in this picture show North Korean children eating very plain looking bread. These children were most likely very grateful to have this bread, but to most of us, we see something worth our pity. Perhaps this speaks more to being spoiled than anything, but these children do not have the availability of great varieties of food and other resources. It makes us wonder how difficult it was to obtain these images. With food shortages and continued rationing still a concern in North Korea, the country is not able to provide anything and everything for all of its citizens.
1. Artistic Opportunity
One thing that is admirable is how committed children are to artistic performance. These children pictured were given the opportunity to have their talents fostered and enriched, which is more than the vast majority of the population can say in North Korea. They were identified for their talents very early and it has been encouraged. The costumes are immaculate and their dedication to their performance is astounding. This is likely encouraged by their families and the monumental understanding that it is a privilege to have such an opportunity. As has been said before, the Korean culture and history is rich and even with limited economic resources, the North Korean government seeks to keep this history alive through future generations. It is unfortunately thought that performances like this aren’t seen by most outside of the capital.