Monday, May 14, 2007

Study Reveals North Korea’s Grim Economic Realities

While all North Korean children are in principle entitled to free education, parents are often called on to give financial support to schools under various pretexts.

That emerges from a study by Rhee Kee-choon and Rha Jong-youn of the College of Human Ecology at Seoul National University. The two professors said the income level of parents is becoming an ever more decisive factor determining the quality of a child’s education in North Korea after the regime unveiled economic reform measures incorporating market economy principles on July 1, 2002.

Lee and Rha wrote the paper based on in-depth interviews with 11 North Korean defectors who had escaped the poverty-stricken country.

◆ Private loans
North Koreans cannot take out bank loans and are theoretically banned from conducting financial deals with each other. But the growing private economy promoted the emergence of private loans. Especially in North Pyongan and Hyamkyung provinces, North Koreans borrow money from loan sharks at 10-30 percent interest to start their own business or buy food.

◆ Food and housing
North Koreans spend most on food, no matter which class they belong to. One North Korean defector said spending on food accounted for 80-90 percent people’s entire spending. Among the upper class, the staple is rice. But lower-class North Koreans live on corn and noodles.

Houses are rented to people under permanent leases, since there is no private ownership of houses. But due to the extreme shortage, housing rights are bought and sold surreptitiously. Some North Koreans sell their housing rights due to financial difficulties, ending up being homeless.

Few North Koreans have the money to buy clothes and shoes with any frequency. Some young people in Pyongyang buy clothes and shoes to catch up with fashion trends, but generally North Koreans wear them until they are worn out, the study finds.

[Chosun Ilbo]

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