North Korea’s “Youth Education Guarantee Act” – enacted to prevent ideological laxity on the part of the youth – prescribes unexpectedly strong punishments, with a Daily NK source saying that young North Koreans are stupefied by the law targeting them. 

In a telephone conversation with Daily NK on Tuesday, a source in North Korea said the law calls for “converting” the ideological and spiritual state of young people who are growing accustomed to “foreign and capitalist cultures.” He said the law aims to eliminate “anti-socialist and non-socialist thought” rising among the youth and ideologically educate young people to think and act solely according to orders from the party and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

The source said the law represents an “intensive, aggressive ideological assault” on non-socialist and anti-socialist activity. The law calls on officials to deny youth who resist “even a modicum of forgiveness or mercy.”

He added that the law also includes heavy “legal punishments” of young people who violate the act, calling for five to 10 years of forced labor of varying degrees depending on the legal particulars and severity of the infraction.

Public sentiment in North Korea is seriously deteriorating due to economic difficulties sparked by international sanctions and COVID-19. Amid this slide, the authorities have been extremely wary that lax discipline among the youth could lead to regime collapse at the drop of a hat.

Last year, North Korea’s Supreme People’s Assembly passed the “Youth Education Guarantee Act” to stop ideological laxity on the part of young people.

According to an explanation of the law that appeared in a Feb. 5 report on Korea Central Television, the law has five chapters and 45 articles.

The report said the law delineates what young people “must not do during efforts to establish a socialist lifestyle,” and lists other no-nos for institutions, enterprises, organizations, and individual citizens. It also said the law specifies how people who violate the law’s demands will “take legal responsibility” for their wrongdoing.

The report did not publicly specify what “must not be done,” but the law likely bans the same sort of things as a similar piece of legislation, North Korea’s law against “reactionary thought and culture.”

North Korean relax, play games, and ride fun fair amusements at a Pyongyang park on International Youth Day in 2011. (Wikimedia Commons)

In explanatory material for the law against “reactionary thought” obtained last year by Daily NK, the legislation calls for criminal punishments for consuming or distributing cultural materials from South Korea, the production or distribution of pornography, the use of unregistered TVs, radios, computers or other electronic devices, and the consumption or possession of banned films, recorded materials or books.

That is to say, the law calls for five to 15 years of forced labor for people caught watching, listening to, or possessing foreign cultural content, and life sentences or death for individuals who import and distribute such materials.

However, the youth education law calls for slightly lesser punishments.

The major aim of the law against reactionary thought and culture is to block the entry of foreign culture through heavy crackdowns and punishments. On the other hand, the youth law emphasizes youth loyalty towards the party and Kim, calling on young people to strictly keep to socialist principles by arming themselves with an “anti-imperialist class consciousness.”

However, rather than having an ideologically invigorating effect on young people, the law has reportedly sparked only resistance.

The source said most young people find the law absurd, with many complaining that watching foreign films should not be a capital offense.

He said many young people believe watching foreign films or TV programs or listening to foreign music is no big deal, and cannot understand the law. He added that because of this, many cannot grasp why they must be punished for doing so.

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Mun Dong Hui
Mun Dong Hui is one of Daily NK's full-time reporters and covers North Korean technology and human rights issues, including the country's political prison camp system. Mun has a M.A. in Sociology from Hanyang University and a B.A. in Mathematics from Jeonbuk National University. He can be reached at dhmun@uni-media.net