Photo: Kim Jong Un organized a performance titled, “We Are the Happiest in the World” — a celebration of the 70th anniversary of the Korean Children’s Union.
Childhood is a precious time in human life, so it can be jarring to see kids working in fields or blindly supporting dictators.
But if you’re one of the 5.3 million children under the age of 14 in North Korea, that’s the reality of growing up.
Kids learn to love the country’s grisly history, from its founder, Kim Il Sung, all the way to its present ruler, Kim Jong Un. They may learn popular art forms like music and illustration, but it’s often in the pursuit of promoting the country’s political will.
Here’s what it’s like to grow up in the most secretive country on Earth.
From an early age, kids living outside the capital city of Pyongyang are made to work on North Korean farms. Forced labor accounts for a large portion of the country’s economic output.
In less developed regions, of North Korea, the trek to school can be fraught with construction projects and dangerous terrain. School buses, when villages have them, are often repurposed dump trucks.
For those without parents, life in North Korean orphanages can be especially brutal. Even the children who get adopted risk rejection later in life if their parents can’t support themselves.
The most high-achieving children train at the Mangyongdae Children’s Palace, a facility that provides lessons in foreign languages, computing skills, and sports.
But money doesn’t free a family from political obligations. Many still worship the country’s leaders and make regular trips to the national monuments that honor them, children in tow.