In an unusual event, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, turned emotional during an event dedicated to mothers wherein the "dictator" called for efforts to tackle the country's falling birth rates. According to state media KCNA, the video, which turned viral on social media platforms, surfaced when he was addressing an event held for mothers in Pyongyang on Sunday.
In a short clip, the North Korean leader, who has an image of a "dictator" and hard-hearted man, was seen weeping while addressing the jam-packed event. Kim Jong Un called for efforts to tackle the country's falling birth rates, describing the challenge as "everyone's housekeeping duty".
Kim said the nation should "work with the mothers" to prevent the birth rate from declining and focus on providing good childcare services. Video from the state media showed a hall packed with women dressed in traditional dresses cheering enthusiastically for Kim at the meeting.
The United Nations Population Fund estimated that 1.8 children per woman are being born in North Korea as of 2023, higher than some of its neighbours grappling with a similar downward trend. "Stopping the decline in birthrates and providing good child care and education are all the family affairs that we should solve together with our mothers,” Kim said in his opening speech.
North Korean population statistics
According to South Korea’s government statistics agency, North Korea’s total fertility rate, or the average number of babies expected to be born to a woman over her lifetime, was at 1.79 in 2022, down from 1.88 in 2014. The decline is still slower than its wealthier rival South Korea, whose fertility rate last year was 0.78, down from 1.20 in 2014.
South Korea’s fertility rate, the lowest in the developed world, is believed to be due to a potent cocktail of reasons discouraging people from having babies, including a decaying job market, a brutally competitive school environment for children, traditionally weak child care assistance and a male-centred corporate culture where many women find it impossible to combine careers and family.
Why North Korea has low birth rate
While North Korea is one of the poorest nations in the world, the change in its demographic structure is similar to that of rich countries, some observers say.
“Many families in North Korea also don’t intend to have more than one child these days as they know they need lots of money to raise their kids, send them to school and help them get jobs,” said Ahn Kyung-su, head of DPRKHEALTH.ORG, a website focusing on health issues in North Korea.
Ahn, who has interviewed many North Korean defectors, said the smuggling of a vast amount of South Korean TV dramas and movies in the past 20 years that showed an elevated social status for women has also likely influenced women in North Korea not to have many children.
North Korea's fertility rate recorded a major decline following a famine
It is worth mentioning North Korea implemented birth control programs in the 1970s-80s to slow postwar population growth. The country’s fertility rate recorded a major decline following a famine in the mid-1990s that was estimated to have killed hundreds of thousands of people, the Seoul-based Hyundai Research Institute said in a report in August.
“Given North Korea lacks resources and technological advancements, it could face difficulties to revive and develop its manufacturing industry if sufficient labor forces are not provided,” the institute report said.
According to North Korean state media reports this year, the country has introduced a set of benefits for families with three or more children, including preferential free housing arrangements, state subsidies, free food, medicine and household goods and educational perks for children.
South Korea’s statistics agency estimates the North’s population at 25.7 million. The Hyundai institute report said that North Korea was expected to experience a population shrink from 2034 and forecast its population would decrease to 23.7 million by 2070.
(With inputs from agencies)