Authorities in North Korea say “sexual immorality” among the country’s teenagers is on the rise, warning that the randy teens’ “impure acts” are considered treasonous, and that their teachers and parents could be punished if they are caught.
While high school students engaging in sexual activity with each other is an issue that most countries would say is caused by raging hormones, North Korea says it is due to “decadent capitalist influences,” meaning pornographic materials from Japan and elsewhere, and movies from South Korea and the U.S. The contraband media materials usually enter the country by way of the porous Sino-Korean border and are distributed from person to person using mobile phones or USB flash drives.
The illicit files in some ways are the only accessible resources about sex and relationships for many young North Koreans, who live in a socially conservative country that borders on reactionary, where there is almost no sex education to speak of.
A 2005 report by New Focus International interviewed several North Koreans who had escaped to South Korea who explained that they didn’t learn about sex at school or at home.
One said that at the age of 16, she believed that a woman could become pregnant by simply holding hands with a man and falling asleep. Another said that he and his friends learned about sex from Japanese pornographic videos, which were being widely circulated on video CDs at the time.
Now, just like 15 years ago, teens are learning about sex from pornography, which does little to educate youth about sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies. But rather than instituting a nationwide sex-ed program in the country’s high schools, North Korea is instead looking to punish not only sexually active teens, but their parents and teachers for improperly educating them.
“Recently more and more high school boys and girls are engaging in immoral sexual deviance, and the Central Committee [of the Korean Workers’ Party] has issued a directive calling for strong measures against them,” a source from North Pyongan province, who requested anonymity to speak freely, told RFA’s Korean Service Wednesday.
“The reason behind this order is that the local Kimilsungist-Kimjongilist Youth League in Sinuiju [a city on the border with China] inspected high school students, and found that some high school boys and girls hang out with local gangsters, live together, and commit immoral acts such as prostitution,” the source said.
The league is the country’s main youth organization, modeled after the Soviet Komsomol.
According to the source, the Central Committee wants to crack down on teen sex to preserve the foundation of society.
“The immoral sexual behavior of students, who are influenced by capitalist lifestyles, has become a problem,” the source said.
“[The committee] defined sexual promiscuity among teenagers as a treasonous act that helps the enemy to destroy our society. And since they are warning of strong punishment, students are shaking with fear,” said the source.
The source said the government identified the cause of the promiscuous behavior, saying it comes from media passed around on mobile devices.
“The Central Committee pointed out that the reason why [sexual promiscuity] is so common in students these days is because they are imbued with decadent capitalist culture, due to the increase in electronic media, including mobile phones,” said the source.
“In order to prevent this, they ordered [schools] to check students for phones or other devices they might have with them,” the source added.
Though smartphone use is allowed in North Korea, the country’s smartphones all have an application called “Red Flag” running in the background that keeps a log of webpages visited by users and randomly takes screenshots. These can be viewed, but not deleted with another app called “Trace Viewer.” The screenshots can be checked by authorities at any time, making surveillance relatively easy.
Schools are now paying more attention to the problem and doing more to report on the deviant behaviors of students by investigating their private lives.
“They are taking measures to control [the teens’] unhealthy sexual activity,” the source said.
“Members of the youth league, as well as school teachers, are calling for various measures including taking charge of troubled students and educating them individually,” the source added.
Another source suggested that the various organizations dealing with the youth should discuss the problem regularly.
“There should be a meeting at least once a month with school principals, party secretaries, and senior members of the Kimilsungist-Kimjongilist Youth League to discuss students’ unhealthy sexual behaviors,” the resident of North Hamgyong province, who requested anonymity for legal reasons, told RFA.
The second source said that there was a sense of alarm among those who run these various organizations.
“Teachers are anxious because of the warning that school principals, advisors to the Kimilsungist-Kimjongilist Youth League and the Korean Children's Union, and school teachers, will also be punished if there is a serious sexual violation among students,” the second source said.
It was not immediately clear if the “serious sexual violation” referred to sexual crimes like rape or prostitution, or if it also included sex between willing teenaged participants.
The second source also said that many believe that the increase in deviance was related to the postponement of the school year, as schools have not been in session since before the winter break due to the coronavirus.
“As students do not go to school and are staying at home, they naturally approach impure media with curiosity and share it with each other, so there is an increasing number of these [immoral sexual] behaviors.”
RFA reported in mid-May that a major crackdown on illegal smartphone content among the country’s youth has been underway since April, mostly geared at eliminating South Korean cultural influences spreading among North Korean youth.
Youth were made aware of the crackdown during meetings of the Kimilsungist-Kimjongilist Youth League and according to sources, pulled all-nighters desperately trying to delete the illegal content from their devices.
In that crackdown also, warnings were issued that parents and teachers would be punished if the youth were caught with the contraband media.
Reported by Myungchul Lee for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Eugene Whong.