In December, 2010, North Korea enacted a number of laws, including the Women’s Rights Protection Law and Children’s Rights Protection Law. However, these laws are likely a move to evade criticism of some of the country’s human rights violations, rather than to make any kind of concrete progress on human rights improvements.
According to a document obtained by the South Korean government, North Korea’s Supreme People’s Assembly passed the laws last December, proclaiming that they guarantee human rights to an international standard.
The Children’s Rights Protection Law guarantees children’s right to education and hygiene, and confirms the right to life and development. Also, other rights such as respect for differences of character, prohibition of physical punishment, the right to inherit, prohibition of abduction and sale, prohibitions against child labor, criminal punishment and the death penalty are all codified within it.
Most notably, the new law prescribes, “A male spouse cannot apply for a divorce if his wife is pregnant or one year has not passed since the birth of a child.” It notes, “Divorce is disadvantageous to a child, and so parents shall not divorce, for the sake of the growth and development of the children, while companies shall lecture parents not to divorce, for the benefit of their children.”
Meanwhile, the Women’s Rights Protection Law prescribes gender equality, the right to vote and stand for office, employment of female officials, the right to labor, prohibitions of violence and abduction or sale.
However, these laws are far from the reality of North Korea.
Also, while the laws stand up next to those of democratic countries, their actual implementation is not likely. Protection of human rights is especially unlikely at a time when surveillance is being enhanced for the maintenance of the regime.
There are even some relatively public and ongoing violations of children’s rights, for example forced mobilization for the mass games, ‘Arirang’, in which more than 20,000 children participate.
Violations of North Korean women’s rights are also widespread. Not only sexual abuse but also human trafficking, prostitution and spousal violence are commonplace, defectors say.
On this, a government source said “North Korea seems to have enacted the laws in order to respond to the international community’s demand for human rights improvements,” and added, “It is unclear if the law will actually be enforced, given North Korea’s reality.”
He added, however, “North Korea will use the law for propaganda in human rights dialogue with international organizations.”
During the same period, North Korea passed the Railroad Cargo Law (Dec. 2010), Marine Litigation Law (Jan. 2011) and General Education Law (Jan. 2011).