North Korean officials forcefully returning homeless kids to their hometowns ahead of political event

Kim Jong Un visits an orphanage in Pyongyang in 2015
Kim Jong Un visits an orphanage and daycare center in Pyongyang in 2015. Image: KCNA

Ahead of a major political event next week, the North Korean authorities have dramatically increased arrests of homeless children who have been wandering near the country’s railway stations and markets.

“The authorities have decided that the kkotjebi (homeless children) don’t “fit” with the atmosphere surrounding the upcoming Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA) elections, so they have ramped up efforts to round up them up,” a source in Pyongyang told Daily NK on February 20.

“Local police and provincial people’s committees are working together to ensure that the children are prevented from wandering around, and they are even sending children from other provinces back to their hometowns by train.”

The SPA elections will be held on March 10 and the removal of homeless children is likely related to the event.

The authorities, however, are facing difficulties in keeping the children off the streets. In some cases, after being placed on a train, the children can jump off it and run away, later returning to the markets. The source reported that people think that the authorities “can’t control” the kids.

It has been reported that local police have severely beaten some children whilst trying to place them on trains.

“An 11-year-old kid who was trying to find his mother was beaten up by local police recently and returned home with a bloody lip,” a South Hamgyong Province-based source told Daily NK. “The child had no money to get medical treatment so the skin on his lip got infected and fell off. He’s now in a serious condition.”

Childcare facilities have been built in some areas of North Korea as part of active efforts to give these homeless children a place to stay. However, they can still be seen wandering around major cities in North Korea like Hamhung and Sinuiju.

“Recently, there have been a lot of homeless kids wandering around near markets in Hamhung,” said the source. “The weather has become colder, so people are saying that the kids have moved southwards to be in a warmer climate.”

A source in North Pyongan Province added, “There are more and more cases of homeless kids being chased away by train station workers and restaurant employees,” said the source. “Weak, elderly merchants in the markets are wrapping up their products in cloths to prevent the homeless kids from stealing them.”