Young soldiers standing guard from inside a barbed wire fence. It appears that covering one's nose with a mask is an annoyance everywhere. This photo was taken of Sinuiju from the Chinese side of the border in July 2021 (ASIAPRESS)

<Inside N. Korea>Recruitment for the world's longest military service(1) This year 8 years for men, 5 years for women

Across North Korea, urban areas are full of recruits for the upcoming recruitment season. The gap between rich and poor is evident in the scenes filled with departing children and parents wishing them well, an ASIAPRESS reporting partner in the northern part of the country said. (JEON Sung-jun / KANG Ji-won)

◆ How new recruits are selected by the military

In North Korea, the recruitment and enlistment process for new recruits is known as chomo. The Ministry of Defense's Organization Mobilization and Recruitment Bureau (formerly known as the Ministry of Defense’s Reserve Forces Division) is in charge of chomo. This organization, which is the South Korean equivalent of the Military Service Administration, calculates the number of new recruits needed for each branch of the Korean People's Army and conducts recruitment through subordinate organizations called military mobilization units in provinces, cities, and counties across the country.

The military mobilization departments in each province, city, and county conduct physical tests and interviews with students graduating from local advanced middle schools (equivalent to high schools) to select the final recruits. Almost all male students are enlisted unless they have been recommended for admission to a university or vocational school.

After this process, all 17-year-olds who have been selected for enlistment come to the provincial capital around March - after they graduate from school - and are assigned to a unit designated by their military mobilization department and head to boot camp near the unit's garrison. For many recruits, this is the first time in their lives that they will be separated from their parents for an extended period of time, and many of them will likely not see their parents at all during their military service.

◆ Recommendations by local youth leagues are required for people to join the military

An ASIAPRESS reporting partner in the northern part of the country said that starting with this year's graduating class, there is a new system that requires students to be endorsed by a youth league organization in order to join the military.

"Students who have done bad things in society, have been sanctioned by the law for watching South Korean dramas or decadent propaganda, or have been unfaithful to the youth league, have had their recruitment applications pushed back by a year because the youth league will not sign off on their applications."

*The full name of the youth league is the "Socialist Patriotic Youth League." It is a mass organization under the Workers' Party of Korea that includes students in middle and high schools and working young people up to the age of 34.

"Three to eight people at each school (in my area) were excluded from the draft, and the parents went around bribing the guidance officers at the school's youth league to get the issue resolved."

◆ Many parents pay bribes to get their kids into comfortable postings

Meanwhile, the reporting partner said that during the enlistment season, the city is jam-packed with enlistees and their parents from all over the country, and that officials at the military mobilization department are busy taking bribes to ensure that their children can serve in a good unit.

"I've heard of bribes ranging from 1,000 to 3,000 Chinese yuan to get into a good unit, such as the military police, the security bureau, or the secret police."

* 1,000 Chinese yuan is about 190,000 South Korean won.

The reporting partner went on to say that bribes are also required to get assigned to Pyongyang or to a well-supplied unit, such as the missile unit, which is favored by parents because they may have the opportunity to meet Kim Jong-un himself.

North Korean soldiers caught on camera in China with a super-telephoto lens. The date of the photograph is unknown, but the masks and plain clothes suggest it was sometime in the summer of 2020. From a video in the YouTube channel Unhabyeul TV.

◆ Some even sell their bikes just to get money to travel to enlist

Another reporting partner in the same area said that, during the chomo season, she feels the disparity between children from families with money and those who do not.

"...those who can afford (to travel to the unit assignment centers) spend money as they please, but those who can't afford it can't even get their parents to come with them (to the meeting place), so they sleep alone in other people's houses, paying 8,000 won a night."

* 1,000 North Korean won is about 158 South Korean won.

Recruits from rural areas have to travel to larger cities to join the army, and usually their parents come with them and stay with them until they are assigned to a unit. However, in many cases, the parents are unable to come along because they have difficulty paying for room and board.

"I heard from an acquaintance who earns money by providing room and board for recruits that there was a kid who came all by himself from a rural area, and he said that he felt sorry taking money from the kid. He had sold his father's bicycle to pay for the trip here."

Young soldiers bathing and washing clothes on the banks of the Yalu River. They are all thin. Photographed from the Chinese side of the border across from Sakju County, North Pyongan Province, July 2017, by ISHIMARU Jiro (ASIAPRESS)

These stark differences in recruits' lives even before they join the military are likely to be even more pronounced after enlistment.

The military is the backbone of North Korea's institutions and defense and also makes the threats that the international community is concerned about. Even small changes in the military can provide important clues about North Korea as a whole. ASIAPRESS will continue to follow trends in the North Korean military closely. ( To 3 >>> )

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


<Inside N. Korea>Recruitment for the world's longest military service(1) This year 8 years for men, 5 years for women
<Inside N. Korea>Recruitment for the world's longest military service(2) Bribery in the military selection process... an unbridgeable gap between rich and poor before military life even begins
<Inside N. Korea>Recruitment for the world's longest military service(3) Poor supplies, uniforms are late in coming, and thieves...Regime forces people to donate supplies to military