[imText1]In the monthly magazine “Choguk” (Nation) produced by Chochongryun, an organization of pro-Pyongyang ethnic Koreans in Japan, North Korea is leading a childbirth encouragement policy. It said, “the women giving birth to many children will be given higher social status and material providence from the government.”
The policy allows 4-12 months of maternity leave, providence of a house for the families with more than three children, and a special support policy for triplets. It also includes 50% discount on all the children products and academic needs and free nursery school and kindergarten education when there are more than three children in the family. Families with four or more children are given special supplement money and superior right for the use of transportation.
Reading this article, some people in South Korea may think North Korea is ahead of South Korea. But this is not so. Childbirth encouragement in North Korea is not to prevent the society from aging of the population, like in South Korea, but to supply the military.
After the 1950s, North Korea started to encourage childbirth. In the 70s, each family had at least three children and many had up to five children. It was to make up for the population decrease due to the war.
Entering the 80s, on the contrary, the government started childbirth control policy. It was because the government started to have difficulties keeping up the food distribution system. In 1977, the government gave every child and teenager a gift on the 65th birthday of Kim Il Sung, and since then they started to say there are too many people.
In the Pyongyangsanwon completed in 1982, a slogan hangs on the wall that says, “One is good. Two is many and three is against conscience.” It is one of the Kim Jong Il’s teachings.
Start of Childbirth Encouragement After the Mass Starvation in 1990s
Passing through the mid 1990s, North Korea had a national “war.” Three million people died including women and children. If the Korean War was a noisy war with guns, the war in the mid 90s was a silent war with hunger. There are many people in South Korea who do not understand about the kind of starvation we had in the North at the time.
As many people died as to empty entire floors of apartments in a coal town. Children became Kotjebi and died. School teachers did not come to school but went out to the markets to make a living. There were no children at school. The government agonized to fill up the number of decreasing military.
In order to maintain the 1,700,000 regular soldiers, they have to recruit a significant number every year. The government expanded the age range to join the military from 16 to 23 and made the workers subjects to be recruited as well.
The Childbirth Encouragement Policy had already been introduced in 1997. After the mass starvation, population census counted three million dead and lost people. With children who could not physically develop well and receive regular education, there was a “generation gap” in the society.
The North Korean government officially reported its population to be 22,910,000. The US Central Intelligence Agency reported on the World Fact Book 2005 published on its official website on August 3 also reported the same number. However, to many sources from North Korea, the current population in North Korea is “well below two million.”
Women Afraid of Making their Children “Kotjebi”
Would North Korea be able to successfully reach its goal to increase population? Probably not.
The problem is that there is no woman convinced by the “childbirth encouragement.” When the policy first came out in 1997, married women complained much. They said, “we’d rather not have any if our children are to become Kotjebi.” Many women believe that if there is no problem with their husband, having no children is a good idea.
Before 1987, maternity leave for giving birth to one child was 120 days, after 1987, it increased to 150 days. Now they say it is 12 months, but there is no woman known to have actually enjoyed such benefit.
The women who are already unemployed complain, “we are unemployed now and they are saying we should rest even more.” Except for those in big cities such as Pyongyang, most of the women do not have work across the country. Even when one gets a job, due to the high competition, she immediately loses her job as soon as she gets married.
Furthermore, with definite lack of house construction, the government’s policy of providing a house to the families with three or more children is a false promise. Women in North Korea cannot be convinced with such a condition for they are worried more about food than housing. Whatever it may be that the government does, “childbirth encouragement” will not work. Unless the economy recovers, population will not recover.