Go to contents

Story of young defector draws attention to needy N.K. children

Story of young defector draws attention to needy N.K. children

Posted May. 06, 2013 09:45,   


Kim Jin-hyeok, a kkotjebi or impoverished child in North Korea, never forgot to smile, while he used to sleep on the street despite bone-carving temperatures of minus 20 degrees Celsius, and lived on begging. Jin-hyeok barely survived by eating bones thrown away by people and radish peels from garbage cans. At the center of his head were two coin-size scars he got due to beating while begging for food.

The process of his horrendous defection from North Korea was made known to the public early this year through Channel A, a general programming cable TV channel and affiliate of The Dong-A Ilbo. Also introduced in Japan, the story drew enormous response from the Japanese archipelago. Wishing to eat meat and cucumbers when he comes to South Korea, he is adapting himself to life in the South after taking training at Hanawon, the state-run facility supporting North Korean defectors’ settlement here.

Over three months after the arrival in South Korea, the 8-year-old has been undergoing amazing change. He has grown more than 10 centimeters. He is growing cheerful and healthy, as if he has already dispelled trauma of his mother and father, who deserted his family to survive and committed suicide, respectively. On Sunday, he celebrated his first Children’s Day in South Korea.

According to the Research Institute of Human Ecology at Seoul National University, 11-year-old boys in South Korea are 144 centimeters tall and weigh 39 kilograms on average, but their counterparts in the North are 19 centimeters shorter and weigh 16 kilometers less. A U.N. World Food Program survey says 475,868, or 27.9 percent of North Korean infants and children aged less than five years, are suffering from delayed post-natal development. Some analyses suggesting that if this trend continues they may become different ethnic groups are hardly an exaggeration.

The change Jin-hyeok has undergone during his life in the North and the South sends a grave message that (South) Korea should not leave the suffering North Korean children, who are the future of (a unified) Korea, unattended as they are now. As a resident in a border area, Jin-hyeok was able to defect the North, but most children across the North are routinely skipping meals due to lack of food.

The reality of the North Koreans, who tout the North Korea regime as the “Kim Il Sung people,” is that one of three cannot afford to get the necessary meals and clothing. Nevertheless, Pyongyang is lavishly spending millions of dollars to develop nuclear weapons and missiles, while Kim Jong Un’s food storage is full of wines costing thousands of dollars per bottle and delicacies including shark spins and caviars.

The Park Geun-hye administration has said that it will provide humanitarian assistance to North Korean infants and children, irrespective of political situation, to implement what it calls “the Korean Peninsula trust-building process.” Some in the South claim that the government should not even provide such aid unless Pyongyang changes. But if the two Koreas reunify, all the children in the North will become citizens of the Republic of Korea. We should not spare efforts to persuade Pyongyang and provide a helping hand to North Korean children.