[imText1]In democratic societies, it seems that the improvement of policies and treatment towards disabled persons is a sign of a developed country. Even when a person graduates from university and seeks employment, it is amazing to see that your experiences in voluntary work are actually considered credible. In North Korea, special treatment for disabled persons is uncommon as is the concept of helping people voluntarily.
Countries with such systems symbolize a developed social welfare class and an advanced level of people’s living standards. Though North Korean citizens proclaim they live in a paradise, the average person is dying of starvation and disabled people live lives far worse.
While soldiers who are injured on duty are cared for by the nation, all other disabled persons are as they say, “should not have been born.”
There is no opportunity to develop your abilities and talents. Here in South Korea, people say that disabled people are discriminated against. But the facilities, benefits and opportunities for employment here, by far outweigh the privileges in North Korea.
In North Korea, a symbolic policy for disabled people is by expelling them from Pyongyang. Even today, you will not find any disabled persons living in the major districts in Pyongyang, Joong, Pyongchun and Daedong River.
The reason is simple. The mere presence of disabled people in the revolutionary city of Pyongyang leaves an unpleasant impression to foreign visitors. Kim Jong Il made this order himself.
There are disabled persons on the outer skirts of Pyongyang. These people are able to live there but secretly, as it is merely the outer perimeter of Pyongyang. Nonetheless, they live under the strict protection of families.
Authority orders bring unhappiness
Our family was living in Pyongchun-district, Pyongyang at the time. I have a younger sister, but when she was young one of her legs became numb after an incident of infantile paralysis. As a result, one of her legs was very thin and shorter than the other, which made her body shape different to other people.
One day in July of `82, my father who worked for the agricultural committee came home looking saddened. Without finishing his evening meal, he went in his room. My mother followed him instantly knowing something was wrong.
After a very long time, my father and my mother came back and said while stroking my sister’s hair, “Come what may, you will have to go to uncle’s house for a while.”
At first my sister was happy thinking it was a holiday but then burst into tears, “I don’t want to. I want to stay with mommy. I don’t want to go.” Though others may have snickered pointing their finger at my sister calling her a spastic, my parents treasured my sister above all the children. And we children, also knew the hearts of our parents well.
My parents just barely saved my sister from dying of infantile paralysis and the thought of having to send her to the country broke their heart. Even though it was a relative, undeniably no one would welcome a disabled cousin. My sister also felt bleak at the thought of parting the nurture of her loving parents to live in the country with relatives.
That morning, my father was called by a secretary of the Party. The secretary informed of the orders which expelled my sister from Pyongyang. He said, “Comrade, we are aware your daughter is disabled. An order has been given by the Party. Either you send your daughter to the country, or your whole family goes to live in the country.”
Though my father pleaded by saying “I will raise my daughter well, without letting her leave the home at all times” it was to no avail. The secretary merely replied, “There is nothing I can do. Under the regulations of the authority, disabled persons are not allowed in the revolutionary capital of Pyongyang.”
In South Korea, people are free to live in the country or come to Seoul as they please. However, it is not the same in Pyongyang. You can only live in Pyongyang if have a certain level of social position. If one’s parents committed a felony, or children have not been disciplined in the correct manner, a family can be expelled to the country. Similar procedures occur if a person disobeys authoritative policy.
Pyongyang is seen as the city of hope to North Koreans as rations are distributed on the rare occasions. You are considered a big success if you leave the country for Pyongyang. After completing his 10 years of military service, my father graduated from the University of Agriculture and began working for the agricultural committee under the Party. It was in fact, a very difficult situation for him to leave his position to live in the country for his daughter.
In the end, my father asked his older brother who lived hundreds of kilometers away to look after my sister, “until further measures were made.” My uncle who was always proud of his younger brother for living in Pyongyang happily agreed.
“Why were you banished?” Feelings of estrangement and isolation
My mother could not hold her tears as she watched my sister walking away on her crutches. I can still vividly remember my mother sitting on the ground crying, nodding her head. As I held my sisters hand, I said, “You must study hard” and promised to go get her one day.
Although my sister was uncomfortable in the legs, she studied well and was pretty. In our family, she received a lot of attention but people treated her differently in the country. She couldn’t socialize with the other children as she walked abnormally and she was teased by the other children.
Further, people have a tendency to look down on people who have been expelled form Pyongyang. They teased her and said, “Why were you banished? Did your father lose his job?” My sister who was angered by this remark threw a stone at one child and as a result, my aunt was called by the security agency and there was a lot of trouble.
My sister didn’t place one foot outside the door as the teasing was severe. She did not attend school and the school was more content with this. After spending 3 years in the country still unable to fit in, my sister came to Pyongyang in the holidays and resisted returning to the country.
Leaving little choice, my father consulted my grandmother in Nakrang-district, Pyongyang and after giving a large bribe to the authorities there, my sister went to live with our grandmother. From then, my sister was prohibited from leaving the home and learned needlework. Since she had not even completed her middle school studies, she was unable to enroll at the school for disabled people.
My sister always regretted being uneducated. I realize that battling and surviving any discrimination is the key to living. However, my sister left school unable to endure the hardship, though it is not entirely her own fault.
Today, I see disabled people in South Korea and my heart goes out to my sister who still lives with our grandmother in North Korea.