Grinding poverty and stolen childhood

The suffocation, by surveillance, shadowing, wiretapping and mail interception, is total. Most patients in hospitals suffer from psychosomatic illnesses, worn out by compulsory drills, innumerable parades, 'patriotic' assemblies at six in the morning and droning propaganda. They are toil-worn, prostrate, at the end of their tether. Clinical depression is rampant. Alcoholism is common because of mind-numbing rigidities, regimentation and hopelessness. In patients' eyes I saw no life, only lassitude and a constant fear.74

North Korea represents a 'prison state' where criticism of the state constitutes treason. Pyongyang recoils from outside intervention, but recent appeals for aid reveal the desperation of a people shut off from the rest of the world. In fact, in relative terms, the capital is a better place to live than the countryside and its residents would find the idea of Western middle classes wanting to move out of the city quite bizarre. Pyongyang's restaurants and nightclubs contrast absolutely with rural North Korea, where citizens face crippling poverty, with starvation particularly rampant among children. But repression also takes its toll on childhood:

Children have had the creativity and spontaneity of childhood taken away from them. The unquestioning following of the instructions and behaviour of adults suggest that the children are aware of the consequences of misbehaviour in adulthood and don't wish to dabble in it. There is a sense of defeat about children's behaviour - that they are subconsciously aware of the intransigence of the status quo and have decided to meekly accept it.75

Meanwhile, in Mongolia's capital, Ulan Bator, where temperatures can fall as low as -52°C in winter, more than 3000 children live on the streets. Many shelter in the sewers for warmth, refuge and to escape violence in the city. The collapse of communism saw most factories shutting down, leaving thousands unemployed. The result was escalating crime, domestic violence and alcoholism. This poverty forced children out of their homes and now they beg, steal and wander the ice-covered streets.76

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