North Korean Farmers Defy Government by Keeping Children at Home to Work

2015-07-30
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Farmers tend their field near Rason, North Korea, in a file photo.
Farmers tend their field near Rason, North Korea, in a file photo.
AFP

Schools in some rural areas of North Korea have stopped offering classes amid growing absenteeism as farmers keep their children home to work in the fields, despite leader Kim Jong Un’s emphasis on education, sources inside the country said.

Farmers are not sending their children to school and instead are putting them to work to stop the government from sending “support workers” to cooperative farms, where they take food away from the farmers in exchange for their help, said a source in North Hamgyong province.

“Farmers are outraged about the government’s exploitation and try to farm themselves without the support workers,” he told RFA’s Korean Service. “And that’s why parents are not sending their children to school.”

Kim Jong Un, who previously mandated 12 years of compulsory education, ordered central authorities to monitor education departments, after receiving a report that schools in the countryside were not holding classes because students recently stopped attending, a source in Ryanggang province said.

“Central authorities from the education ministry started monitoring each province’s education sector on July 20,” he said. “As part of their review, middle schools in the countryside are also being reviewed by local boards of education.”

However, cooperative farms have a so-called “distributed yard charge system,” under which farmers who are short of hands can have their children help out with the work instead of sending them to school, the source said.

Central government authorities have started to address the issue, but it will not be easy for them to find a solution, he said.

“The monitoring by central authorities and education boards is related to operating problems at district and local unit schools,” the source in North Hamgyong province said. “With the start of the farming season, schools in the countryside virtually stopped offering classes.”

Kim Jong Un announced an ordinance requiring 12 years of compulsory education during a speech he gave at the Supreme People’s Assembly, the country’s unicameral legislature, on Sept. 25, 2012.

On Oct. 12 of the same year, he issued a document addressing education on the 65th anniversary of the founding of Red Flag Mangyongdae Revolutionary School, an elite school in a district of the capital Pyongyang that educates the children of the country’s war dead, Workers’ Party members, military and high-ranking administration officials.

The document urged students to become “future pillars of powerful North Korea” and suggested ways to improve and strengthen the education sector.

Reported by Sung-hui Moon for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Soo Min Jo. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

CH. 1: MANDARIN | CANTONESE

CH. 2: VIETNAMESE | BURMESE | KOREAN

CH. 3: KHMER | LAO | UYGHUR

CH. 4: TIBETAN

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