A dressed up schoolgirl. North Korean youth are greatly influenced by Chinese fashion. Photograph taken in Hyesan, Ryanggang Province, in October 2013 by ASIAPRESS

◆ Families become desperate as economic threat looms larger than risk of infection

The North Korean government has closed all schools, kindergartens, and daycare centers and pushed back the start of the new semester, originally scheduled for March 2, by a month to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

A reporting partner, a mother living in the northern part of the country, gave the following account to ASIAPRESS on February 25:

“Students have been given a month’s worth of homework for them to stay and do at home. Parents have been told that they must notify the school if their child shows signs of a cold.”

This is the case across North Korea, where children have been commanded to stay at home. To enforce the order, the authorities have mobilized the Youth Alliance to block children from entering markets and other crowded areas.

North Korean schools do not provide lunches, so students usually return home to have lunch prepared by their parents. However, many mothers leave the house during the day to run private businesses.

◆ Helping with chores in the home

To prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the North Korean authorities have completely sealed off the northern border with China since late January, cutting off all trade entirely. This has led to a massive drop in the supply of Chinese goods and resulted in high prices at markets, where vendors now face a serious slump in business.

According to the reporting partner, “Parents give their children work to do around the house. This is because business is down and some families are very cash-strapped. They have their children collecting firewood in the mountains and preparing ingredients for food they will sell at the markets.”

Parents across the country are in a desperate situation. Not only must they force their children to stay at home but they must rely upon the help of their children to stay afloat financially. The month-long delay to the start of the school year will certainly not be remembered fondly by parents and children alike. (Kang Ji-won)

Editor’s notes on North Korean reporters

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