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Disability in N. Korea: Stigma persists despite official efforts

North Korean media is attempting to improve perceptions of people with disabilities, including introducing a commemorative event for disabled children on International Children’s Day (June 1). However, these efforts have had little impact, with derogatory terms for the disabled still commonly used.

A source in Yanggang Province, speaking anonymously for security reasons, told Daily NK on June 14 that “almost nobody calls cripples ‘disabled’” and that negative perceptions remain widespread in North Korean society. Derogatory terms like “aeggu” for blind people and “ppiggo” for those with mobility impairments are still prevalent.

“Families often mistreat those with disabilities, telling them to stay hidden at home,” the source explained, adding: “Because of the general negative view, people with disabilities feel uncomfortable in public.”

North Korean authorities began efforts to change terminology in 2003 with the Law on the Protection of Disabled People. Since 2018, the Rodong Sinmun has run articles promoting non-discriminatory practices for people with disabilities. The government has also established facilities such as sports associations and vocational training schools. These include the Vocational Training School for Persons with Disabilities run by the Korean Federation for the Protection of the Disabled and a reading room for people with disabilities in the Sci-Tech Complex.

Despite these efforts, social prejudice and discrimination persist 20 years later. Critics within North Korea urge authorities to focus more on improving disability-related terminology rather than cracking down on South Korean speech patterns through the Pyongyang Cultural Language Protection Act of January 2023.

“It’s not right to drag somebody off to a forced labor camp for calling your boyfriend oppa, but I think we need to apply this punishment to improve views of the disabled,” the source said. “If the authorities order that people be sent to a forced labor camp for using the word ‘cripple,’ more people will use the term ‘disabled,’ and perceptions of the disabled will change over time.” 

North Korea’s first disability-related survey in 1998 reported 3.41% of its population as disabled. The country enacted the Law on the Protection of Disabled People in 2003 and conducted follow-up surveys in 2011 and 2014. In 2013, North Korea signed the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, amending its domestic law accordingly. The 2018 implementation report for this Convention stated that disabled individuals comprised 5.5% of the population, approximately 1.41 million out of 25.73 million people.

Daily NK works with a network of sources living in North Korea, China, and elsewhere. Their identities remain anonymous for security reasons.

Please send any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.

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July 09, 2024 at 01:00PM

by DailyNK(North Korean Media)

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