Warning: Extremely disturbing reading.
Several bizarre headlines have come out of North Korea recently, but none perhaps as disturbing as recent reports of cannibalism as a result of the nation’s “hidden famine."
According to stories collected by undercover reporters working for Asia Press, an independent news agency based in Japan, and reprised in The Sunday Times of London, North Korean citizens facing starvation have resorted to cannibalism. The Sunday Times piece opened with an anecdote about a North Korean father who was allegedly executed by a firing squad after killing his own two children for food during a famine that struck the country in the past year. The famine has supposedly already taken 10,000 lives this past year in provinces south of the nation’s capital Pyongyang, but has not been reported by international media, much less by the official press of the backward, closed-off dictatorship.
Another story, coming from mostly unnamed “citizen journalists” in North Korea’s South Hwanghae province, said one man dug up the remains of his grandchild and used the corpse for sustenance, while another person who was “driven mad by hunger” resorted to boiling his own child and eating his flesh. Independent verification of those reports is impossible.
The extreme food shortage is said to be a result of droughts and crop failures, resulting in harsh food rationing. One of the most gruesome stories in the Sunday Times had one man killing his son and daughter while his wife was away, and offering the meat to her upon her return. It was the wife who ended up turning him in to authorities after growing suspicious about the food.
“While his wife was away on business he killed his eldest daughter and, because his son saw what he had done, he killed his son as well. When the wife came home, he offered her food, saying: ‘We have meat,’” the source told The Sunday Times.
Reporting out of the secretive state has proven to be very difficult for news outlets. Stories coming out of North Korea largely go unchecked and sources are often reluctant to report the true conditions. The regime releases only propaganda-laced "news" reports; it is not likely any official statements or statistics regarding a famine will be released anytime soon.
However, this is not the first time reports of cannibalism have come out of the pariah country. During the summer of 2003, Mark Nicol of the Telegraph, a British newspaper, reported about a similar famine in North Korea that also led to alleged cases of cannibalism.
That report cited North Korean refugees who fled the country, claiming that a poor harvest season and a cut in international food aid had some so desperate for food they killed children. The report named one man, only identified as Lee, who feared his missing grandsons were killed for food. After rumors of “eating children” spread, the United Nations World Food Program made repeated requests to investigate “farmer’s markets” where human meat was said to be traded. North Korean government declined access, citing “security reasons.”
Though not much negative news, if any, comes out of the nation’s official news source, the Korean Central News Agency, some desperation in the nation is certain. Last summer, North Korea was struck by a tropical typhoon, and was forced to accept aid from its South Korean neighbors, with whom the country is still officially at war.