Disabled Not Allowed to Live in Pyongyang

[imText1]“Oh, here is someone who must go to Jongsung”

This is what they say as a joke to short people. Jonsung in North Hamkyung province is a town created around the 60s and 70s for the people with dwarfism. There is also a town for the people with dwarfism in Jungpyong-gun, South Hamkyung province. According to the testimonies of the North Korean defectors, such towns are created by the order of Kim Il Sung during the 60s, who commanded, “Dwarfs must not spread their genes so put them together in one place.” It is known that a concentration asylum for people with dwarfism in the mountainous areas of Jagangdo.

Although there is no official reports about the number of such concentration asylums, but disabled people are segregated from the common people geographically. According to the defectors, there is a quarantine facility to isolate congenital deformity in Youngkwang-gun, South Hamkyung province. People with dwarfism not only have difficulties getting married, but when they get married, they are forced to become sterile.

Disabled People Not Allowed to Live in Pyongyang, the City of Revolution

Accordin to Choi Young Sook, who defected to South Korea in 2003, “the disabled people who used to live in Pyongyang were moved in force to other local places according to where they had relatives for the purpose of making Pyongyang an international city.” The reason for it was “to give a good impression to the foreigners who visit the capital of the republic.” Not only Pyongyang but other cities where foreigners often visit also quarantined disabled people to other places.

It was 1980s when Pyongyang was transformed into a “disabled free” city. In 1985-1986, the little left disabled people in Pyongyang were all forcefully moved to other places for “The 13th Pyongyang International Youths Students Festival.” Those who did not have relatives in other local places were expelled from the city with their family, or even they stayed in Pyongyang they were to live at the outskirts of the city and were coerced to not come out of their houses.

Discrimination Among the Disabled People

Although the government of North Korea strictly controls the disabled with congenital deformity, it provides special treatments to those who become handicapped during their military service calling them “honorary soldiers.” The honorary soldiers are allowed to live in Pyongyang. Most of them work at the fountain pen factory and live at the outskirts of Pyongyang. However, even the honorary soldiers are not allowed to move around the downtown Pyongyang. There are “honorary soldier factories” in other cities and districts too.

The government’s special treatment of the honorary soldiers is part its strata policy. The government also aims to inspire a hostile social sentiment toward South Korea and the US by maintaining “quasi-war-like” social atmosphere. Furthermore, it also has a propagandistic effect that gives more importance to the military. However, this was the case only up until early 1990s. Kim Chul Ki, who defected to South Korea in 2003, says, “the honorary soldier factories ceased working from the late 1990s and even the food distribution stopped so many of the honorary soldiers became thieves or beggars wondering around the streets.”

Disabled People Not Allowed to Enroll At Universities

The government of North Korea identifies disabled in five categories, which are crippled disorder, hearing impairment, visual impairment, feeble-mindedness and mental disorder. There are schools for deaf and dumb (nine year course) as well as blind schools but there are no schools for other disabled people. According to the person’s condition, it is possible they receive the elementary and middle school education but they are not permitted to enroll at universities. Since this is the national policy, the level of education of most of the disabled people is pretty low. The disabled people in North Korea are allowed to received the minimum education only to learn about the one-ideology (Juche), but no education for rehabilitation or employment.

The government of North Korea officially states that the disabled people, once done with their schools, are placed in the workplaces for stamp and watch engraving, or watch/clock repair. However, the defectors testify that in reality, the disabled people are hardly given even the simple work. This is because there is a lack of interest and care for the disabled people along with poor education.

Kim Tae Jin, who defected to South Korea in 2000 described the situation as, “most of the disabled people lose their identity but are considered as the burdens of the society who can only do the simplest work. The reality is that they are not provided with enough of education and they are unable to wish for such an opportunity.”

Absolute Lack of Facilities and Medication for the Disable People

World Association of Milal, an organization who send aids to for the disabled people around the world sent 200 wheelchairs to North Korea. That happened in 2003. However, there is not a single place for a disabled person could go to on a wheelchair. There are bumps in all the pedestrian roads downtown Pyongyang city. There are no slanted wheelchair passages or elevators for the handicapped people, not even at the hospitals. The North Korean people do not even know about “the right of mobility of the disabled people.”

There too, is a factory for artificial legs in North Korea. For those “honorary soldiers” after the Korean War, the government of North Korea built a factory and produced medical instruments such as artificial legs with the assistance from the socialist countries of the Eastern Europe. However, as the economic crisis continued, the factories closed down. The defectors all agree that the SongLim Honorary Soldier Adjusting Instrument Factory” in the SongLim City of North Hwanghe province is nothing more than a propagandistic factory for the outsider world.

In 2003, the North Korean government passed, “Democratic People’s Republic of Korea Disabled People Protection Code.” It includes various laws such as free medical care (Art. 9), permission of enrollment of universities (Art. 18), and subsidies to the disabled people who have lost capacity to work (labor) (Art. 40). However, Kim shares a negative perspective on such laws. “When 80% of all the factories in North Korea are stopped, and the state enterprises that in production cannot even pay wages to the workers, it is unbelievable that the government will provide subsidies to the disabled people.”

The North Korean government reported the number of disabled people in North Korea to be about 700,000. The data was provided by the Chosun Handicapped People Supporting Association established in 1998 who conducted a sample survey of 430,000 people in 1999. This organization changed its name to Chosun Disabled People Supporting Association after the government passed the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea Disabled People Protection Code in 2003.

Currently, the two organizations, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Handicap International are working in Hamheung and SongLim city. The ICRC started medical instrument production and rehabilitation education since 2002. However, they are far away from meeting the demand.