To address the country’s declining birthrate, the North Korean regime is instituting policies to encourage childbirth. However, these policies are reportedly not gaining much traction within the country.
The North Korean authorities have promised 5,000 KPW grants per month per child for all families with more than three children. The funds are intended to alleviate the costs of child rearing, but the announcement has received a lackluster response from women across the country.
“It’s less than the cost of one kilo of rice (5,800 KPW)! What kind of encouragement is that?” asked one source in North Pyongan Province. “Even though the local precinct office also provides a subsidy, I feel bad for women who raise a lot of children.”
“It’s hard enough to raise one child. Even if they provide a lot of funding, how would it be possible to raise that many kids? (The authorities) have distributed propaganda claiming that, ‘Having lots of children improves your health,’ but we laugh when we hear that sort of thing,” she added.
The regime, concerned with a potential drop in the number of future soldiers, has been actively labeling women who have many children as “heroes.” Despite these efforts, more and more of the country’s women are choosing not to have children. The source noted that the subsidy is a trivial amount, and some people are even remarking that to have children is a ‘suicidal act.’ Also relevant is the fact that an increasing proportion of the country’s breadwinners are women.
“Just a few years ago, one woman from Chonma County was publicly praised as a ‘Work Hero’ for raising ten children. However, nobody was jealous of her. Even if you are called a hero, you still have to work in the markets to make money. Everybody understands this reality, and so nobody felt compelled to follow in her footsteps,” the source explained.
Kim Jong Un has replaced the expression that was previously used to praise women who have multiple children during his father’s reign. While Kim Jong Il labeled these women “Maternal Heroes,” Kim Jong Un refers to them as “Work Heroes.” Regardless of the term bestowed, it appears that the regime is having trouble producing the intended effect.
“So called, ‘Work Heroes,’ receive hospital treatment, the right to use trains reserved for Party cadres, and a source of income even after they retire. But people are asking, ‘Who would have ten children just for those benefits?’ It was good to be considered a Work Hero during the socialist era, but in the [market arena], being labeled a hero is useless,” said a separate source in North Pyongan Province.
“Because it’s so difficult to maintain a source of income while raising three children, people these days say that families that have one kid right after the other are foolish.”
More women these days are seeking to fulfill their own needs through hard work. The once widespread perception that each individual is subservient to the needs of society at large is slowly dissipating. Marketization has introduced concepts including fair exchange and equality that stand in contrast to the state’s officially ‘approved’ worldview. Perhaps because of these changed perceptions, demand for contraceptive methods (illegal in North Korea) is also on the rise.
“It’s impossible to buy contraceptives and birth control medicine/devices from hospitals, so women have turned to the black market. In reality, many of the women with multiple children are living in poverty,” a South Pyongan Province-based source said.