FILE PHOTO: A young boy going around a market with a sack. There are many people surviving in destitute conditions. Taken by ASIAPRESS in Pyongsong, South Pyongan Province in September 2013.

Amid the rise in North Koreans in urban areas suffering from poverty due to a sharp decrease in cash incomes, secondary school students are heading to agricultural areas to steal crops. An ASIAPRESS reporting partner provided details on this social issue on October 26. (KANG Ji-won)

◆ Students steal corn from farm fields

According to the reporting partner, who lives in Yanggang Province, higher-level middle-school students (high school students) are going to agricultural areas in teams of two or three to steal crops.

※ North Korean middle schools, spanning six grades, are divided into lower-level and higher-level middle schools. Higher-level middle school students are equivalent to high school students in South Korea.

According to the reporting partner, “Before the COVID-19 pandemic, a lot of young people in poor families would cross over into China and steal things. The heightened security along the border of the Yalu River has made this impossible, so they’re going to rural areas instead. They avoid roads with lots of checkpoints and go through the mountains to avoid the checkpoints.

“A group of students from poor families in my area took a two-day trip down to Paekam County and stayed in the mountains while stealing crops from farm plots before returning with bags full of corn. They stole the crops during the daytime when farmers are less on guard. They went into the fields and took just the corn kernels and placed the kernels in pockets stitched to their clothes. They repeated this throughout the course of a day.”

※ Paekam County is an agricultural area near Hyesan.

◆ Officials confirm whereabouts of students as thefts rise

There are no guarantees, however, that such groups of students return home safely. There are frequent cases where students are caught on the farm fields and their actions reported back to their schools. Cadres with the Youth League at their schools are also called in and told to watch over their students more carefully.

※ Higher-level middle school students are members of the Socialist Patriotic Youth League, a youth organization under the Workers’ Party of Korea.

The authorities are viewing these student escapades as a serious social problem and have ordered the Youth Leagues at schools and local inminban (people’s units) to confirm the whereabouts of students in their charge. During the weekdays, officials confirm the whereabouts of students who miss class, while on the weekends they use an emergency contact network to confirm where students are.

If a student is found stealing from a farm, the head of their school and their homeroom teacher are also punished. As a result, teachers are conducting frequent visits to students’ homes to confirm their whereabouts. This has caused frustration among many students.

◆ Stealing to survive

“Most of the students doing the stealing are those whose parents are divorced or have mothers or fathers suffering from disease. They’re stealing to survive, so (the government) should help them by ensuring businesses can thrive or hand out food instead of cracking down on them.”

※ ASIAPRESS communicates with its reporting partners through Chinese cell phones smuggled into North Korea.

A map of Yanggang Province (ASIAPRESS)