Residents of Chongjin City in North Korea’s North Hamgyong Province are facing ongoing cases of theft and burglary. Although the gap between the country’s rich and poor is widening in dramatic fashion, the authorities are not taking appropriate measures to address the surge in crime. For more, we turn to reporter Kim Ga Young.
Residents in Chongjin are feeling anxious, as incidents related to organized crime continue to plague the city. There have been reports of thieves using knives to cut into bags and steal wallets in the middle of the day. Empty houses have become a particularly popular target for general burglary.
“Residents all over the city are complaining that the city is swarming with thieves,” said a North Hamgyong Province source during a telephone conversation with Daily NK on June 26. “Screams can be heard across the city’s neighborhoods every night as homeowners contend with night-time break-ins.”
According to the source, the thieves often begin as young vagrants, such as the so-called kkotjebi, or homeless children and teenagers. However, these days, the crimes are meticulously planned and organized. The thieves wander about in shabby clothes but can strike in an instant, plundering a nearby home.
The widening gap between the rich and poor is partially responsible for the trend. While some residents have been able to move up the socioeconomic ladder thanks to the country’s gradual marketization, others have been left behind. Among the have-nots, there is a sense of deprivation and social unease.
Chongjin is especially affected by the influences of marketization in social life as it is home to two large wholesale markets that are frequently used by the country’s new entrepreneurial class, known as the donju. Compared to other cities, more of the residents in Chongjin make their living from the markets. The concentrated presence of wealthy traders has become a lure for opportunistic thieves.
Two kotjebi [homeless children] in an alley behind Chongjin city SunamMarket
in March 2017. In the past, these children were often seen begging on the street.
Here, they can be seen playing in an empty cart. Image: Daily NK.
The fact that teenagers to early 20-year-olds are involved in organized theft is particularly noteworthy. To date, most forms of organized crime has been perpetrated by soldiers in the border regions.
The situation has changed significantly in recent years. Marketization has left certain vulnerable individuals behind, and teenagers and younger people who are part of this trend are now retaliating.
Despite the worsening situation, the public safety agencies tasked with instilling law and order are taking a hands-off approach, said a separate source in North Hamgyong Province.
“The Ministry of People’s Security (North Korea’s police force) recognizes the gravity of the situation because they are bombarded with reports of theft by citizens, but have no real means to address the underlying causes of the crime wave,” he explained.
“It is necessary to give these young thieves work orders or some sort of punishment so they don’t do it again, but the security officers don’t want to chase these people. Instead, the perpetrators go unpunished day after day, and the public safety agencies have no plan to address the issue or crackdown on crime.”