North Korean military abolishes family hardship and dishonorable discharges

In this photo from February 2019, North Korean border guards ice fishing in Onsong County, North Hamgyong Province. Taken in February 2019
In this photo from February 2019, North Korean border guards ice fishing in Onsong County, North Hamgyong Province. Taken in February 2019. Image: Daily NK

North Korean authorities recently abolished family hardship and dishonorable discharges in an attempt to prevent soldiers from avoiding military service, a growing problem in the country.

“The government recently told the Korean People’s Army (KPA) not to grant discharges willy-nilly,” a source in North Hamgyong Province told Daily NK. “Kim Jong Un ordered the abolishment of family hardship and dishonorable discharges because the ‘military needs to take responsibility for the sons the people have sent to serve their country until the end of their service.’”

In the past, soldiers suffering from serious illnesses would be discharged from the service within 10 days. Now, however, ill soldiers can’t go home to receive treatment because illness-related discharges are no longer allowed.

The authorities have also prohibited soldiers who cause trouble on bases from being dishonorably discharged. This means that soldiers with criminal records continue to serve in the military.

Some military commanders, however, have reportedly balked at Kim’s new orders. The commanders argue that allowing sick soldiers to stay in the military will “disrupt order in the military” and that sick soldiers lacking medical treatment could become more sick or even die, according to a separate source in North Hamgyong Province.

“North Korean authorities say that the new measures are aimed at having the ‘state take responsibility for all its soldiers,’ but the reality is different: their underlying motive is to prevent soldiers from shirking their duties,” he said.

The Daily NK reported in February that young people, with the help of their parents, are finding ways to avoid military service. Some hide their illnesses in the hope of joining the military, but most North Koreans no longer see this as honorable. The “new generation” believes that working in the markets earning money while avoiding conscription is the best thing to do.

Soldiers also face less rations than before and their social status is lower than before. There is an increase in people trying to avoid military service as a result.

“Military officers received proper rations until last year but now they and new recruits only receive around 10 days-worth per month,” said the initial North Hamgyong Province-based source. “Military officers find ways to survive because they have soldiers under their command, but new recruits are in a bind.”

North Korean authorities consider it illegal for military officers, new recruits and even their families to conduct business activities and this has led to difficult financial conditions among military families.

The families of new recruits in particular don’t have anything to eat so soldiers, after receiving permission from their superiors, have to visit relatives to get food to feed their families. The military is allowing new recruits to take time off to get food for their families in consideration of their dire situation.

“New recruits want to just leave military service to feed their families, rather than rely on relatives for food,” a source in North Pyongan Province reported. “New recruits I spoke with say that they want to leave the service and get a plot of land to farm on so they can feed their families. Some have managed to return home after bribing their superiors to get discharged.”

Kim Yoo Jin is one of Daily NK's freelance journalists. Please direct any questions about his articles to