Beginning this year, North Korea is to execute a new directive, set to make military service mandatory for eligible women between the ages of 17 and 20, in a bid to strengthen the nation’s defense forces.
“Late last year, we received orders for all
women who have graduated from middle and high school to undergo mandatory
military service,” a source based in North Hamkyung
Province told Daily NK on Tuesday.
This measure has been handed down to army
mobilization offices in each province, city, and county, with implementation reportedly already underway. “The preliminary screening and physicals
related to enlistment, which begins in April, are all complete and duty sectors
have been organized,” he said.
Most candidates pass these screenings barring any outstanding physical problems or contagious
diseases such as tuberculosis and/or hepatitis. The minimum height requirement for women to serve was lowered to 142cm in 2012, but this standard is not strictly enforced,
according to the source.
Customarily, enlistment in North Korea occurs twice a year in April and
August, and up until now, women served only voluntarily, while men invariably underwent
mandatory service. School graduates aged 17-18 years enlist in April, while the enlistment period for workers at or under the age of 20 takes place in August.
This new policy, however, will not apply equal serving period requirements to both men and women. “Unlike men, who have to serve for ten
years, mandatory service for women is only up to the age of 23,” the source said. “A 17-year-old who enlists
in April will serve until she is 23, but a 20-year-old worker who enlists in
August will only serve three years,” adding that a rumor of men’s service being extended by a year has been swirling around recently, but cannot yet be confirmed.
As reason for the new mandate, he cited the high child mortality
rate and low birth rate stemming from the Arduous March [the North Korean famine of
1994-1998], speculating that the military is hoping to make up for the
shortfall in viable troops by drafting more women.
He also explained that this year, admission quotas for female applicants to universities and technical
schools have yet to be announced, presumably “to only
recommend those who have completed their military service or exceptionally
gifted students from special schools who may be exempt from service altogether.”
Naturally, the new directive has
stirred up concern among the public, who question how families are supposed to
get by if the women, who normally provide for the family by engaging in various
types of business, are drafted into the military. Unsurprisingly, many female
residents have begun to look into bribing officials in order to keep their
daughters out of the draft.
Back in March 2003, at the sixth session of the 10th Supreme People’s Assembly, it was announced that military service was to be reduced to 10 years from 13 for men, and to seven from 10 for women. Only women signing up voluntarily were to serve, while men in some extremely specialized units
would still be required to fulfill 13 years of service.