The number of North Korean elderly who wander around looking for food and begging is on the rise, Daily NK has learned. 

North Korean senior citizens who have no children to rely on in a difficult economic situation are roaming around begging, Daily NK sources explained on Tuesday.

“There are many elderly beggars,” a Pyongyang-based source told Daily NK. “Most of them have homes, but they have nothing to eat at home, and no children to bring them rice, so they literally will forage for food in the wild.” 

“Even if they have homes, beggars are beggars, and everyone in the village knows that they are poor,” continued the source. “At the same time, they are not dusty or dirty. They look elderly and thin, but clean overall.” 

There are also an increasing number of such elderly beggars who come into Pyongyang from other regions, Daily NK sources said. These beggars sneak into Pyongyang, taking a detour to avoid the “No. 10 checkpoints” (Ministry of State Security checkpoints). These checkpoints are at various entrances to Pyongyang as well as at the entrances to every major city in North Korea. 

“Admitting that there are beggars in Pyongyang is a source of shame for local neighborhoods, which is why people try to keep quiet about it. It’s a lie, though, to say that Pyongyang doesn’t have beggars,” one of the sources said. “The beggars from the provinces sneak around the No. 10 checkpoints to come into Pyongyang, and because people here aren’t hardhearted, they will give them bread if nothing else. Beggars who come into Pyongyang and have a taste of life there will never go back.”

These itinerant beggars gather where there are lots of people or at factories during working times. When people are done eating they will toss the leftovers to the elderly beggars, who will line up as though at a food distribution center, according to the source.

“For example, when families and friends gather and cook meat on a metal sheet over a gas stove, and there’s some left, the beggar will come and snap it right up,” said the source. 

At the same time, North Korean state authorities have reportedly grown more lax about regulating beggars, young and old. Not only is it costly to round up beggars and send them back to the provinces to detention centers, the beggars have only been known to escape, rendering most attempts at regulation ineffective, explained Daily NK sources.

“Police officers will sometimes take these beggars away, but even after they do that, they’ll let them go after a certain period of time,” one Daily NK source said. “If the officers want to send them back to the provinces, they have to be responsible for getting fuel for their cars, so these days they just leave them alone.”

*Translated by Violet Kim

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Ha Yoon Ah is Daily NK's editor-in-chief. Please direct any questions about her articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.