June 1 was International Children’s Day, an event celebrated annually in North Korea and similar to South Korea’s Childrens’ Day. Kindergartens across North Korea organized athletics and mountain climbing events on the day. Although appearing to be ordinary celebrations, the pervasive culture of corruption was evident.
“For Children’s Day events, parents prepared clothes, shoes, and lunchboxes. Richer parents spend 50,000 KPW to prepare lunch boxes and give 50,000 KPW in cash to the kindergarten teachers,” a source in North Hamgyong Province told Daily NK.
Although presented as gifts to kindergarten teachers, they are actually routine bribes necessitated by the state’s failure to provide wages and provisions to kindergartens. As a result, residents are required to contribute all necessary materials, from toothbrushes and toothpaste to salt and soybean paste, if they want their children to attend the kindergartens.
Parents who send their children to kindergartens while they work at the markets have no choice but to accede to the teachers’ requests. The culture of bribing teachers was also prevalent in South Korea in the past, but the practice is now rare due to new regulations and a changing cultural norms.
The kindergarten teachers openly favor children whose parents provide lunch boxes or cash. The practice mirrors similar behavior where senior North Korean officials give leniency toward those lower-ranking officials who pay large bribes (when caught engaging in corrupt practices).
“For this reason, children who are from rich families are full of confidence and vibrant while the children from poorer families often look gloomy and withdrawn in the kindergartens,” said a source in North Pyongan Province.
“The gap between the rich and poor in society can be seen in the lives of the children as well. Some parents find it difficult to buy a single lunch box while other parents can afford to send lunch boxes to the teachers every day.”