A young boy in Chongjin, North Hamgyong Province, was recently dragged away by members of a task force charged with cracking down on kkotjebi (homeless children in North Korea who beg for food around public markets) before just barely returning home around two weeks later.

A North Hamgyong-based source told Daily NK on Jan. 15 that “around the end of last December, a ten-year-old boy went out to ride the bus when he was rounded up by the task force,” and that “the parents, who had suddenly lost their child in one morning, searched everywhere until he was able to return home after 15 days.”

According to the source, the boy had been staying at his grandparents’ house in Pohang, Chongjin, for a few days to be at his grandfather’s deathbed. After his grandfather passed away, he boarded the bus to tell his parents in Raman about the news when he had been misidentified as a kkotjebi and taken away.

When the boy did not show up, even after the period of mourning had ended, his grandmother fainted, and his parents combed the streets and even went to the Ministry of Social Security to beg them to search for their child. However, it is reported that the ministry responded carelessly, asking where they should look for the boy.

The local residents told the boy’s parents in the midst of their search, “Recently, the officer in charge of kkotjebi are mistaking boys in the streets for kkotjebi and arresting them … There are boys who have suffered from being taken in by officer in charge of kkotjebi, so try going to them.” Upon hearing this, the boy’s parents went immediately to the officer in charge of kkotjebi, Daily NK was told.

However, the officer responded haughtily and mockingly, and eventually, the parents were able to check the list of kkotjebi taken away by the officer only after giving him a bribe. They reportedly discovered that their son was staying in a remote area where a group of kkotjebi had been locked up, and in 15 days, they were able to bring him home.

illicit drugs chongjin
A North Korean patrol questions a resident in early 2017 in North Hamgyong, Chongjin. / Image: Daily NK

The source stated, “It came to light that during this time, the boy had not been able to eat properly, and had been running errands and washing laundry like a slave … The boy testified about what he had seen and experienced, saying that kkotjebi who were 16 and older ate barely two meals of corn chunks a day and did all sorts of heavy labor, such as chopping wood in the mountains, while kkotjebi under the age of 15 washed the laundry of the older kkotjebi who worked in the mountains.”

Furthermore, the boy had searched many times for the opportunity to escape to his home, but the source explained that because he had been relentlessly monitored by the officers in charge of the kkotjebi, he had been unable to slip away.

According to the source, “When the parents found their son, his hands were so chapped that they were bleeding, and he was so thin that they were speechless. They could only throw their arms around him and sob aloud.”

Fortunately, the boy was able to return home thanks to his parents’ efforts, but the shock had been so great that the boy was reportedly still in a state of blank, listless terror and could not leave the house at all.

In the meantime, the source reported that “since the pandemic began, an order was issued for all kkotjebi to be rounded up and taken into custody because of the risk that they might spread the virus, so there is not a single kkotjebi to be seen in the streets of Chongjin.”

*Translated by Esther Ra

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Kim Yoo Jin is one of Daily NK's freelance journalists. Please direct any questions about his articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.