COMMITTEE ON RIGHTS OF CHILD CONSIDERS REPORT OF DEMOCRATIC PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF KOREA
So Se Pyong, Minister and Deputy Permanent Representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to the United Nations Office at Geneva, speaking on behalf of Ri Tcheul, Ambassador and Permanent Representative, said that part of the basic guidelines of the people’s power organs in their activities was to pay much attention to the rights of the child and to make them the priority.
Mr. Pyong said that since its accession to the Convention in September 1990, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea had made a great effort for its sincere implementation. However, the country had been faced with difficulties caused by the economic embargo against it which had lasted for more than half a century and the natural disasters that had occurred in recent years. The full implementation of the Convention had been impeded by such difficulties which were now gradually being eradicated by the emergency actions being taken by the Government and through international humanitarian assistance and cooperation.
Committee Experts questioned the delegation, asking, among other things, when the State party would ratify the two optional protocols to the Convention; about the status of the Convention within the domestic legal system; the function of the Youth League; the existence of different ages for marriage for boys and girls; protection of freedom of religion; and monitoring the consistent implementation of the Convention.
In preliminary remarks, the Committee Expert and Chairman who served as country Rapporteur to the report of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Jacob Egbert Doek, expressed his appreciation to the members of the delegation for their answers which had been open and frank. The delegation had replied to all the questions raised without avoiding sensitive issues. The Committee would take the dialogue into consideration while preparing its conclusions and recommendations on the report, he added.
The delegation of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea also included representatives of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly, Foreign Ministry, Ministry of Education and members of the Permanent Mission of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in Geneva.
The Committee will issue its final recommendations on the report of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea towards the end of its session, which concludes on 4 June.
When the Committee reconvenes at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 2 June, it will take up the second periodic report of France (CRC/C/65/Add.26).
Report of Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
The second periodic report of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (CRC/C/65/Add.24) enumerates the efforts of the State party in implementing the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, covering the period from 1995 to 2000. It notes that this period was marked by unprecedented difficulties and hardship both for the State and its people. The successive natural disasters lasting for several years from 1995 have severely hampered the economy as a whole and seriously damaged people’s livelihood. As a result of hard efforts, the State party had progressively surmounted the hardships, restored the balance between the various sectors of the economy, restored the basis of an impendent national economy and laid a reliable springboard for the construction of a powerful nation.
The report says that all State officials, especially those concerned with children, base all their activities on the motto: “Let us live today not for today but for tomorrow”. The Government and the officials concerned with children keep in mind their noble mission of cultivating a bright future and are firmly determined to devote more sincere efforts to the work of guaranteeing the rights of the child, surmounting all the difficulties encountered.
Presentation of Report
SO SE PYONG, Minister, Deputy Permanent Representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to the United Nations Office at Geneva, speaking on behalf of RI TCHEUL, Ambassador and Permanent Representative, said that part of the basic guidelines of the people’s power organs in their activities was to pay much attention to children and to make them the priority. The late President Kim Il Sung had said that children were the “King” of the country and they should be given the best and every possible benefit. Following his instructions, all institutions and officials in the country regarded children not merely as minors to be loved and cared for but the successors and growing generations of the future of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Thanks to his excellent policies and leadership, children in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea had become the real “King” of the country. That was why the Korean people considered that the President was still alive in their hearts and held him in high respect.
Since its accession to the Convention on the Rights of the Child in September 1990, the State party had made a great effort for its sincere implementation, Mr. Pyong said. It had coincided with the realization of the ideal of the Government in bringing up the new generation of the country. The Government had paid primary attention to the comprehensive and full enjoyment of rights by every child.
Mr. Pyong said it was his country’s recognition that each right of the Convention was equally important and indispensable. The Government had done its best to implement the provisions of the Convention. In particular, it had taken measures concerning children in remote mountainous regions and islands and children with disabilities. It had also responsibly arranged the material and social conditions for the practical, legal and institutional guarantees for the rights of the child.
The country was, however, facing difficulties caused by the economic embargo against it which had lasted for more than half a century and the natural disasters which had successively occurred in recent years, Mr. Pyong said. The full implementation of the Convention had been impeded by such difficulties, especially in aspects concerning the nutritional care of children, supply of school facilities and medical equipments as well as medication. The Government was now trying its utmost to overcome the difficulties it faced. The difficulties were gradually being eradicated by the emergency actions taken by the Government and by international humanitarian assistance and cooperation.
Questions Raised by Committee Experts
JACOB EGBERT DOEK, Committee Chairperson who served as country Rapporteur to the report of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, extended his condolences to the Government and the families of the victims of the train accident that took place in the country a few weeks ago. He thanked the Government for inviting him with a member of the Secretariat and another member of the Committee to visit the country for three and a half days. He said that the implementation of the rights of the child could not be seen separately from the economic and political reform of a country. The State party had more resources at its disposal than in the past; however, there was terrible problem of malnutrition of children. International humanitarian assistance had prevented the situation from taking the magnitude of a disaster.
Mr. Doek said that the Korean Peninsula was still considered to be in a state of war. The economic sanctions imposed on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea remained in force. Further, the allegations of human rights violations had exacerbated the political problem. However, there was an array of hope that the country was consistent in addressing the problems of women and children. Within the arrays of hope, it was essential to have structural reforms which were indispensable to reduce the country’s dependency on international humanitarian assistance
SAISUREE CHUTIKUL, Committee Expert who served as Co-rapporteur, thanked the Government for making it possible for the Chairperson, a member of the Secretariat and herself to visit the country.
She recalled that the country in the seventies had done very well economically and socially with its rapid growth and high national income, even enough to contribute assistance to a number of developing countries. Later on, economic development had declined because of various external and internal factors, in addition to the natural disasters which had had negative effects on children in particular. For example, this concerned the problems about food security and the question of the right to food for children, which was the basis for their right to life, survival and development. The Committee had been told that the macro-economy seemed to have had some modest growth in recent years.
Ms. Chutikul said the Government had underscored that some 30 social service schemes related to health, education, entitlements for women, child care, protection of the disabled, among other things, would remain unchanged. There were, however, question marks over the affordability of such a wide range of free services, many of which were highly dependent on international humanitarian assistance. She commended the Government’s efforts. But the related question to that affordability lay in the system’s capability to sustain the accessibility to or coverage of services for every child and to be able to improve the quality of such services.
Ms. Chutikul welcomed the many measures which had been implemented, notably the revision of some 50 laws, including that for children with disabilities, the increased attention to malnutrition of children and a clearer policy on children even though it was not explicitly confirmed on the rights-based approach. However, some items had not received sufficient attention for follow-up activities.
The Expert asked whether in the process of the formation of the National Programme of Action (2001-2010), non-governmental organizations, concerned humanitarian agencies and even children themselves had been involved. Was there a possibility to include those groups as well as people at the local level when a review and evaluation was undertaken in five years time?
Other Committee members also raised questions. They asked, among other things, about the ratification of the two optional protocols to the Convention; the timeframe set to ratify ILO conventions on the minimum age for the administration to employment and the worst forms of child labour; the status of the Convention within the domestic legal system; the function of the Youth League; the existence of different ages for marriage for boys and girls; protection of freedom of religion; monitoring of the consistent implementation of the Convention; and training programmes for mothers and personnel taking care of children.
Response by Delegation of Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
Responding, the members of the delegation said that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was in a cease-fire situation and the other party had not accepted its proposal to end this state.
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea had experienced many natural disasters, the delegation said. That situation had created economic difficulties in the country. Before 1996, people around the world used to come to the country to admire the educational system which was exemplary. However, since 1996, the phenomenon of street children began to exist in the country which had prompted the Government to take appropriate measures to address that situation.
The country’s laws had been amended to harmonize them with the international conventions, particularly the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the delegation said. The minimum age according to which a child could be sentenced to capital punishment had been raised from 17 to 18. Compulsory education had been strengthened, and supplies of educational materials had been increased.
During the recent train explosion, children had been victims and the Committee for the Rights of Children had come to their help, the delegation said. Many of the children became victims after approaching the area out of curiosity, despite the prohibition by the authorities to approach the area of the incident.
Malnutrition was unfortunately still present in the country, the delegation said, adding that the Government was endeavouring to reduce the rate of malnutrition. The supply of safe drinking waster was also another area where the Government was making efforts to overcome the problems.
Koreas were making efforts to reduce international humanitarian assistance and to be self-reliant, the delegation said. The Government was thankful for the international assistance it received from individuals, countries as well as organizations such as UNICEF, UNDP, World Food Programme, and Caritas International, among others. On the issue of increasing State budgetary allocation to health and education, the delegation said that the overall allocation for education and health was 7.1 per cent and 5.8 per cent respectively. The universal compulsory 11-year education and the universal free medical care system were in place.
With regard to the right to opinion, the delegation said that children’s opinion was important in all aspects. All institutions were open to complaints and grievances from children, both verbal and written. Many institutions had a section what dealt with children’s complaints. If the complaints proved to be correct, officials took due measures to resolve the problem.
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was a country without any form of discrimination, the delegation said. There were no antagonistic social classes – poor and rich. The allegations of discrimination came from certain individuals who did not understand the system.
Questions by Committee Experts
Committee Experts continued querying the members of the delegation. They asked, among other things, about the decrease in school attendance in rural areas; the higher rate of school absenteeism of girls more than boys; lack of heating in schools that discouraged students from attendance; the situation of breastfeeding; the conditions for domestic and international adoptions; the law on family reunification; the alleged bad treatment of victims of the train accident due to the lack of adequate healthcare facilities; and the adolescent health and mental healthcare systems.
Response by the Delegation
Students who dropped out of school or those who failed classes had the possibility to repeat, the delegation said. Additional measures were taken to encourage repeaters and to help those who left school early.
On corporal punishment, the delegation said that it was not an issue of public concern. Light corporal punishment administered by parents was intended to benefit the children and it was a means of educating them. Any ill-treatment of children was reported to the National Coordination Committee on Child Rights.
On matters of adoption, the delegation said all adoptions had to be registered. The adoption of a child required the consent of parents, relatives, nurses and teachers, among others. However, the adoption of a child who had the capacity of independent expression of will only required the consent of the child concerned. The State neither prohibited nor encouraged inter-country adoption.
The situation of street children was a new phenomenon in the country, the delegation said. Many of the children came from mountainous regions after having escaped from their families. Those street children were taken care of by the State and were sent to institutions where they could get vocational training.
There were clinics attached to all schools, the delegation said. Those clinics provided primary health care, while for serious cases, children were sent to outside health centres.
On the protection of children with disabilities, the delegation said that a series of legal provisions were put in place to protect such children. There were no legislative or social grounds for discrimination against or neglect of children with disabilities in the country. Local government organs paid subsidies to families which had children with disabilities.
Asked how much access children had to information, the delegation said there were juvenile libraries to provide information in each community. The Internet connection was not popular among children. The policy on accessibility to information was to carefully protect children from harmful elements.
There were not many religious people in the country, the delegation said. No one was suppressed due to his or her religious beliefs. The State was separated from religions and had no influence over them, nor did it make any restrictions. The Kim Ill Sung University had a faculty for religious studies. Buddhists and other religions had their own temples and churches and believers were free to exercise their beliefs. However, the State had to watch the situation so that foreign spies did not infiltrate the country on the pretext of religion. When the United States invaded the country, it had used religious priests before doing so. Individual belief was so natural that the State did not put a law in place to regulate it.
An Expert said that there was disturbing information on the situation of children and their families who returned after leaving the country legally or illegally. How free was it to return to the country after staying abroad?
The delegation said that enlistment in the army was possible for children on a voluntary basis. A preliminary training was provided to prepare them physically and mentally in specialized military schools. The purpose of the education was to shape citizens for self-reliance in nation building. There was a belief that the problem of the Peninsula should be resolved by the Koreans themselves who should seek to reunite without any foreign interference. South Korean compatriots were willing to assist the country. There had been a series of family reunions. The war had separated kin and families. The Koreas would have united had it not been for the obstruction of foreign powers.
Illegal crossing of borders was not admitted in accordance to the country’s legal system, the delegation said. However, there was no institutional suppression inflicted on returnees. Those who crossed to China illegally should know that legal procedures should be respected.
Because of the economic difficulties, people had to leave the country to stay with relatives in China, the delegation said. Those who returned to the country after visiting their relatives in China, even if they left in an illegal manner, were not punished. However, those who committed crimes and escaped justice, and who returned after a long stay outside, would be punished upon their return.
Chinese citizens in Korea could obtain citizenship if they so desired, the delegation said. Children could not be stateless and no one could be left aside without national protection. If one of the parents was a Korean, citizenship was given automatically.
JACOB EGBERT DOEK, the Committee Expert and Chairperson who served as country Rapporteur to the report of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, expressed his appreciation to the members of the delegation for their answers which had been open and frank. The delegation had replied to all questions raised without avoiding sensitive issues. The Committee would take the dialogue into consideration while preparing its conclusions and recommendations on the report.