On June 6, 1946, the Chosun Children’s Union was founded. The Children’s Union, an organization for all children between seven and fourteen, is guided politically by the Science Education Department of the Central Committee of the Party.
Its hierarchical structure consists of a number of levels populated by students, including section committees of class and school, provincial and local school committees, and the national coalition of the Children’s Union. Within the structure, there is one head and two vice-heads of the Union in each school, one school committee member from each classroom, one head and two vice-heads of a section committee which exists within each class, and three to five committee members of each section committee.
The teacher who takes responsibility for the Children’s Union in a school is known as the Children’s Union Instructor, while the homeroom teacher of each class is generally also the section committee instructor. Based on the notion that a student’s political and organization life should be divided from his or her general school life, the teacher undertakes homeroom tasks and Children’s Union tasks under two different official positions.
Members of the Children’s Union must act according to the “regulations and obligations of the Chosun Children’s Union.” In order to “do good works,” part of the social activities of the Union, Union members make a “Kid’s Plan,” which specifies the kind and scale of the activities the member intends to carry out, be it collecting scrap iron, copper or paper, raising rabbits, participating in propaganda choirs or being a children’s watch guard (someone who monitors the activities of other students).
The symbols of the Children’s Union are the red scarf, like that of Young Pioneer organizations in other communist states, a badge showing a torch, and the greeting and slogan of the Union, “Let’s always be ready to become workers in the construction of socialism!” in long form, or, more pithily, “Always ready!”
Every student has to take part in one of three Union entrance ceremonies during their second year of elementary school.
The first entrance ceremony is held on Kim Jong Il’s birthday, February 16, the second on Kim Il Sung’s birthday on April 15, and the last one on June 6, the date of the organization’s founding. Model students who have a good family background can join the Union on Kim Jong Il’s birthday with his or her homeroom teacher’s recommendation, the next political class of students enter it on April 15 and the rest of students joint en masse on June 6th.
Entrance ceremonies are held regionally. First on the agenda at the ceremony is to recite the entrance oath; next, Union officials give badges and ties to new members; then the children shout the Union slogan with right arm aloft in salute.
The main concern of parents is the day of their child’s entrance ceremony. Students who are permitted to join on Kim Jong Il’s birthday have the best prospects, with a high possibility of becoming Union leaders of one kind or another. Activities within the Union are, of course, noted, so it is important to be successful from the beginning.
Therefore, the position of homeroom teacher of a second-year elementary class is desirable, since it allows the teacher access to bribes of money, clothes, rice and more from parents keen to see their child enter the Union on February 16.
Until the early 1990s, when the authorities stopped provided students with school uniforms, the red scarf was also provided by the state, but now, as with so much, it is the duty of parents.
Therefore, from February to June demand for the ubiquitous red scarf of the Children’s Union increases in North Korean markets. In the Sunam market in Chonjin, the red scarf of the Union sells for between 500 and 1200 won.
Yet even in the simple red scarf there is a symbol of inequality. Children from the upper classes have silk scarves manufactured in China, while the other students use cheap nylon versions or receive them from siblings.