Children of the Secret State - Socialism in North Korea

With the help of undercover cameraman 'Ahn Chol', who risked his life to film there, Joe Layburn reports on the horrifying world within North Korea's secret state where years of the brutal regime has led to widespread famine, disease, particularly among the country's children, and even cannibalism.

The North Korean government claims to feed its population through a central distribution system, but the thousands of street children are testimony that the system is failing. As journalists are forbidden inside North Korea, Layburn assumes the guise of a tourist and is accompanied by an official guide at all times. Meanwhile, Ahn Chol undertakes a dangerous mission to capture images of this hidden world. Layburn also interviews Korean street kids in China where they have managed to escape, from whom he hears the stories of how some children have resorted to cannibalism.

A North Korean farmer who also escaped to China provides an explanation for the famine that is rife in the country. He was ordered to stop growing food, and to grow opium for the government instead, the profits from which go to the state army.

Despite 2 million people starving to death in the 1990s in an avoidable famine, Kim Jong-il is once again forcing his people to subsist on the promise of handouts that never come. The World Food Programme warns that a famine is looming once again, yet the regime is ordering all aid agencies out of the country saying that it is now able to support its own people without international help. The consequences for the North Korean people could be catastrophic.

After the 1990s famine, Kim Jong-il introduced semi-free market reforms, which allowed people to buy and sell food and goods to each. However food prices soared higher than wages, and as a result only the elite sections of society – government officials, security forces and the leadership of the army could eat. The average family can only afford to buy 4kg of the cheapest grain. North Koreans are surviving on less than half the internationally recommended minimum of 550-590 kg of grain a day.

Kim Jong-il has always used the nuclear threat to blackmail the international community into providing food donations. With the protracted six-party talks on the nuclear threat stalemated, many of the larger foreign donors are withholding their usual food offers. To date, only 270,000 of the 500,000 tonnes of food has arrived this year. Aid agencies have now insisted that they will only supply donations if they are able to distribute it themselves. This may now be a futile decision since North Korea has formally told the United Nations it no longer needs food aid, despite reports of widespread malnutrition.
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Frank Kitman