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Young North Koreans are taking pains to avoid military service

Editor’s Note: In Sep. 2021, North Korea’s Supreme People’s Assembly adopted the “Youth Education Guarantee Act,” one of the “big three” oppressive laws passed during the COVID-19 period. The law concretely defines a number of behaviors that young people must not engage in and obligates the government to control and crack down on these behaviors. Is this issue of youth education so grave that legal remedies are truly necessary? In a new series, Daily NK investigates how the lifestyles and ways of thinking among the MZ generation (early 1980s-early 2000s) compare to previous generations of North Koreans.

Article 41 (What Youth Must Not Do) of the “Youth Education Guarantee Act” prohibits North Korean youths from “using the pretext of family problems or illness to refuse to serve, marrying young to avoid conscription, improperly undergoing physical examination or personnel examination, evading service by inflicting physical injury, or any other act to evade mobilization for military service or otherwise failing to serve faithfully.

The problem of young North Koreans evading military service has now become serious enough to be explicitly mentioned in North Korean law. The phenomenon was particularly widespread during this spring’s conscription drive and was observed in several regions, including Pyongyang and Sariwon.

Daily NK worked with several sources inside the country to find concrete examples of young people dodging the draft, and took a deep dive into the reasons and environment driving young “MZ generation” North Koreans to avoid military service.

An astute new generation that values their personal lives and sees no benefit in military service

A source in Pyongyang told Daily NK that “there has been a big change in the way the new generation views its national defense duties. Many young people are avoiding military service in order to escape economic hardship [caused by military service], and this trend was especially pronounced during the conscription period this spring.”

A source in North Hwanghae Province similarly reported uncovering several examples of draft evasion. “During the conscription period in March, some young people in Sariwon avoided joining the military by joining the labor force, while other families with little disposable income were able to pay bribes to falsify medical records or otherwise have their children removed from the conscription list.”

This year, a particularly large number of households used their political or financial power to exempt their children from military service. In one case, a young North Korean was summoned to appear before the Socialist Patriotic Youth League after openly stating, “Why should every boy who graduates from high school have to go into the military? People with power should use their power [to contribute to the country], those with money should use their money, and those who have nothing should contribute to the fatherland by joining the military.”

Even though North Korea continues to emphasize the importance of military service in its ideological education, poor economic conditions and changing social values have contributed to a more widespread negative attitude toward military service, the source explained.

“Today, the new generation has a stronger desire to earn money and live well economically rather than dedicating their youth to their country through military service. This seems to be influenced by the values of the new generation, which prioritize the life of the individual [over the collective].”

In the past, most people could join the party after being discharged at the end of their military service, barring any major incidents. As a result, military service and joining the party were seen as stepping stones to improving one’s social status. Now, however, the barrier to joining the party has been raised and the social rewards of membership are less certain, leaving many smart members of the young generation ambivalent about the necessity of military service.

The source in Pyongyang added, “Even if you’re lucky and can join the party, the special treatment and social benefits for discharged soldiers who become party members are not as good as they used to be, and in fact, being a party member can even get you pushed to the front of the line to take on some of the hardest and most difficult tasks on behalf of the country and the party. So it’s not worth it for the younger generations who are more self-prioritizing and more concerned with finding ways to survive in the present moment.”

A direct challenge to the regime’s stability, “Determine the needs of the young generation and put forth new policy”

Why is the North Korean government so intent on cracking down on young people avoiding military service? Draft evasion is a serious problem for the regime because it directly affects the stability of the regime and the party’s initiatives to strengthen North Korea’s military power.

“The KPA Reserve Forces Division says it has filled only 60%of the slots it had planned to fill during this spring’s conscription period,” the source in North Hwanghae Province reported. “The division believes that the new generation’s avoidance of military service, combined with their growing reluctance to have children, is a serious problem directly related to the future of our country and the combat readiness of the KPA, which is vital for national defense.”

The North Korean authorities emphasize the importance and significance of military service as they focus their efforts on preventing ideological backsliding among young North Koreans. Article 12 of the “Youth Education Guarantee Act” declares that “as a major national task crucial to the accomplishment of great socialist achievements, we must not neglect our national defense even for a moment, and [national defense] should be the most sacred responsibility of the ardent young people [of North Korea],” effectively  codifying the government’s obligations to control and take responsibility for young people who avoid military service.

“If [the government] wants to change the way the new generation views their military service, [it] must make efforts at the state level to address basic issues, such as putting forward policies to solve [the current] economic hardship and improve living conditions in the military,” the Pyongyang source concluded, adding: “Instead of putting all its energy into ideological education that emphasizes loyalty to the state and the party, the government should find out what young people want and formulate appropriate policies.”

Translated by Rose Adams. Edited by Robert Lauler. 

Daily NK works with a network of sources living in North Korea, China, and elsewhere. Their identities remain anonymous for security reasons. For more information about Daily NK’s network of reporting partners and information-gathering activities, please visit our FAQ page here.

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Read in Korean

April 12, 2024 at 11:38AM

by DailyNK(North Korean Media)

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