North Korean Military

What's Life Really Like In The North Korean Army?

On Wednesday, footage was released showing the defection of a North Korean soldier as he attempted to cross the border at Panmunjom...

North Korean Military

Footage has been released showing the defection of a North Korean soldier as he attempted to cross the border at Panmunjom on November 13th.

The defector, a member of the DPRK’s army who goes by the name of Oh, is currently in the process of recovering in a South Korean hospital.

And although he is reportedly growing stronger by the day, concern remains for his psychological health - he apparently has nightmares about being returned to the North.

Reports also emerged from the hospital that the Oh had huge parasitic worms living in his digestive tract.

The parasites found indicate the poor hygiene and living conditions to which the soldier had been subject whilst living in the North.

As it stands, however, relatively little is known about life in the North Korean army.

Images of North Korean capital Pyongyang: A monument to the Founding of the Workers Party (top left; image: Joseph Ferris III); subway trains (top right & bottom left; images: Roman Bansen and David Stanley); A city street (bottom right; image: Kounosu)

However, we’ve gathered what information we can to paint a picture of military life in the North.

Military service is currently compulsory for those living in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea; men are required to serve for 10 years and women for seven.

As a result, North Korea’s army is one of the world’s largest.

There are 7,679,000 troops out of an approximate population of 25 million: 1,190,000 active, 6,300,000 reserve and 189,000 paramilitary personnel.

One of the main issues facing the country’s military is the malnutrition that troops face whilst attempting training.

UN figures released in March show that two in five North Koreans are undernourished.

Whilst soldiers are supposedly guaranteed regular meals, they are often given only corn kernels or rice to eat, which leaves them with a lack of essential nutrients in their diet.

Frequent reports also emerge of North Korean troops raiding farms and villages in a desperate search for food.

North Korean soldiers

For women in the North Korean army, sexual violence is a very real risk.

Defector Lee So Yeon spoke to the BBC about her experiences as a female soldier:

"The company commander would stay in his room at the unit after hours and rape the female soldiers under his command.

"This would happen over and over without an end.

"Women are still seen as 'ttukong unjeongsu', which literally translates as 'cooking pot lid drivers', and means that they should 'stay in the kitchen where they belong.

"After six months to a year of service, we wouldn't menstruate anymore because of malnutrition and the stressful environment."

Female North Korean Soldiers