Commerce is becoming a more and more popular way for the young people in North Korea who leave school for one reason or another to make ends meet.
At a time when the state ration system has collapsed and the livelihoods of individuals often depend almost entirely on commercial activities, it is not surprising that children instinctively turn to the path of commerce. The latest generation of North Korean children, grimly accustomed to hunger and poverty, live in a world where they have to start making money for their families almost as soon as they learn “Hangeul” (the Korean alphabet) and rudimentary mathematics.
Recent events have aided this trend: there has been an increase in the number of civilian mobilization projects this year, including the infamous “150-Day Battle,” while regulations relating to adult commercial activities have been simultaneously enhanced and strengthened, so it is not surprising that young people have been moving into the places vacated by older people.
Indeed, this trend has even earned itself a name, “No. 3 Economy.” The North Korean authorities originally designated civilian and military economic activities as the No. 1 and No. 2 economies respectively.
Now, the people refer to the "No. 3 Economy," which means economically productive activities undertaken by young people.
A source from Yangkang Province relayed a sad tale to Daily NK; "On a road going through Kim Jong Suk County on July 6th, a Hyesan Jungso Coal Mines Complex vehicle veered off the road and hit a group of people, killing eight. It turned out that five of them were students from Hyehwa Middle School in Hyesan. They were killed on their way to trade Chinese products over in Kim Hyong Jik County.”
The source explained, "Due to the '150-Day Battle,' parents have been unable to avoid going to their official workplaces, so the younger members of average households have inevitably chosen to engage in commercial activities in their stead."
The opening time of most North Korean markets has been put back to 4 P.M. in order to accommodate the "150-Day Battle" mobilization decree. As a result, informal “alley markets” have sprung up all over residential areas, and you can find huge numbers of young people working instead of adults there.
It should be noted that those young people who get involved in commerce are neither beggars nor delinquents. In the morning, they go to class, but go to work in alley markets in the afternoons. Five or six years ago society tended to feel sorry for them, regarding them as being the victims of bad parenting. However, the situation has changed; now they are seen as being some of the smartest ones, and people who care for their parents' and family members' well-being.
To these youngsters, school is no longer a place where they are forced to learn about the General or the Leader, the state or the Party. Instead, they attentively gather information and ideas related to trading. It is also commonplace for students to buy and sell goods among themselves at school.
The source explained, "Because jangmadang regulations have been reinforced and goods are not being sold as readily as they were, the number of students who take things to sell in school has increased. Transactions between classmates sometimes engender more confidence than those conducted in the markets, and with bargaining also being easier in schools, so parents have begun making requests for necessary items through their children."
"The schoolbags of students are turning into store rooms. Gum, candy, socks and God knows what else have been found in school bags where books should be; some students even sell cigarettes to their classmates."