NORTH KOREA DEVELOPED INTO the country we know today as a result of World War II, when Korea was divided between the Soviet Union which controlled the north, and the United States which occupied the south. The Korean War (1950-1953) saw an attempt to unify the country-albeit by force, but the border didn't change much with the signing of the armistice. North Korea's "Great Leader," Kim Il-sung instituted a Stalinist state and effectively closed off North Korea from the rest of the world.

For the next two decades, from the 50s to the 70s, North Korea advanced with postwar reconstruction, modernization and the establishment of commune farms.
But quality of life in the country began to decline in the 80s. In the 90s the country's economy collapsed at the same time crops failed, resulting in widespread famine. Some North Koreans began to flee as a means to survive, even though doing so was considered treasonous and punishable by torture and imprisonment in labour camps. Borders were strengthened, and the journey became increasingly riskier and
more arduous.

Today North Korea continues to be hobbled by dire socio-economic problems it attempts to hide from the world. But we know North Koreans are suffering-from hunger, poverty and lack of basic freedoms people in other countries take for granted.


25.5 million
6 million
33.3 OUT OF 1000
1 IN 4
Total population
In need of food aid
Detained in over 180 work camps
Hiding in China
Deaths of children under 5
Are malnourished
Defectors granted nationality in South Korea as of 2011
Defectors estimated escaped since the late 1990s
*UN or Amnesty International estimates.


  • The media is controlled by the state.
  • Very few people have access to the internet.
  • All you know of the rest of the world is what the state tells you.
  • You are taught to love the North Korean leaders, past and present.
  • You could be imprisoned at any time, for any reason.
  • If you are considered a traitor to the state, your entire family will be imprisoned
    with you.
  • There are an estimated 200,000 political prisoners held in work camps.
  • Prisoners are tortured, ill-treated and forced to attend public executions.
  • There are more than a million troops in
    the military.
  • Famine and lack of food are a constant part of everyday life.
  • You can't choose where you work, or what work you do.
  • People who aren't favoured by the government have to work in mines or collective farms.