Malnourishment rife in many of North Korea’s orphanages

북한 김정은 북한 국무위원장이 지난 2015년 1월 1일 고아원인 평양육아원·애육원을 방문한 모습. / 사진=조선중앙통신

Despite Kim Jong Un’s proclaimed “love for children” and efforts by the government to expand and reform the country’s child care facilities, there are still children being subjected to forced labor and suffering from severe malnutrition.

“In accordance with orders from the Party, orphanages have been appearing everywhere for the past few years. There are even orphanages now in some small villages in the countryside. Unit 927, an entity that is dedicated to dealing with juveniles has become much busier than in the past, and orphans have started to disappear from the markets here,” a source from Ryanggang Province told Daily NK in an interview on November 21.

“Although these orphanages are supposedly getting ample supplies from the government, there have been several cases of managers dipping their hands into the pot for personal gain. A rumor has been circulating that you can easily get rich by becoming a manager of an orphanage.”  

While orphanages are getting allocated ample supplies and rations from the government under the Kim regime, the shortage caused by the embezzlement problem is forcing many children to participate in farm work to be able to feed themselves.   

“I’ve seen and talked with a few of the orphanage children out working in the fields before and they looked like nothing except skin and bones. One child told me, ‘It’s harder for us when we are inside the orphanage where there is barely anything to eat, than when we are out in the fields’,” a source in North Hamgyong Province added.

Analysts are warning that there is a dire need for a system to be put in place to fight the embezzlement taking place at orphanages.

Director of the International Coalition to stop crimes against humanity in North Korea (ICNK), Kwon Eun Kyoung, stated, “Although this isn’t the case for every facility, there seems to be several facilities that are being forced to sell supplies given to them by the government to cover operating costs. This is resulting in an unavoidable shortage of rations for the children living at these facilities.”

“Although the government is trying to help orphans, the bigger problem associated with the operation of the orphanages isn’t being addressed. For example, if 100 supplies get marked for distribution to orphans by the government, 40 will be taken by a middle man and then another 40 get taken by an administrator. By the time they actually reach the orphans, only 20 will be left. Trying to fix this corrupted system is paramount to solving the problem,” said a North Korean defector on condition of anonymity.

North Korea signed the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child Treaty in 1990, and enacted a law to improve Children’s Rights in 2010. In 2017, North Korea claimed that the situation for children’s rights had largely improved when they submitted their 5th Children’s Rights Report to the UN Children’s Rights Committee.