As part of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s efforts to show his “love for the people,” the regime set about rebuilding boarding schools for orphans throughout the country in 2015. However, these institutions are now facing questions due to the death of an orphan at one of the facilities in Pyongsong.
The child reportedly died due to stress from excessive schoolwork, according to the North Korean authorities. Daily NK sources report, however, that the boarding school staff also failed to properly feed the children in their care and even stole their food to pay off the school’s debts.
“A student at Pyongsong Boarding School died after being forced to work too hard,” a South Pyongan Province-based source told Daily NK.
“The teachers were punishing several students for failing to make the grade in classes when several of them fainted from exhaustion. They were sent to a local hospital, but one died.”
A separate source in South Pyongan Province reported that the orphans’ malnutrition was so severe that they could not endure the harsh treatment they were receiving.
“Pyongsong educational authorities recently told the teachers to turn all middle school students into outstanding students,” she said.
“The students were forced to stay up without sleep and had to do schoolwork all night. Students who passed the tests were allowed to head back to their dormitories to sleep, but those that failed had to stay up until they passed the test.”
Children at the facility were not given enough food, which led to malnourishment. “Their meals were just made up of foul-tasting salt soup with corn noodles,” she said.
“Each child was supposed to get 500 grams of corn per day, but much of this was stolen by the staff, so the kids got even less to eat.”
Pyongsong Boarding School was rebuilt on orders from Kim Jong Un in 2016 and has modern facilities including a swimming pool, grass sports field, and sauna. The cost of the revamp, however, was taken on by the school itself, forcing it into debt.
After coming to power, Kim highlighted his “love for children” and visited boarding schools housing orphans of various ages. During a visit to a boarding school in Wonsan in 2015, Kim stated that raising orphans to become “outstanding pillars of society” was the “firm decision” made by the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK). He then ordered the revamp of around 20 such facilities throughout the country.
Despite his emphasis on children and his “love for the people,” Kim placed responsibility on local governments to manage the reconstruction of the boarding schools. These local governments ended up going into debt during the reconstruction process and are now rife with corrupt practices by boarding school employees stemming from the debts.
“The losers in all this are the kids because the boarding schools were just used for propaganda,” a North Korean defector told Daily NK on condition of anonymity.
“[The regime] placed all the emphasis on fast results, and this has inevitably led to corruption.”