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View more articles by Hamish Macdonald
Hamish Macdonald is an NK News contributor and has previously worked at The Korea Herald and for the Australia Centre for Independent Journalism in Sydney.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) announced on Wednesday that the North Korean government has released wide-ranging data collected from its citizens in 2017 by the state’s Central Bureau of Statistics.
The data was collected using a Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) of 8,500 households. There have been three previous MICS conducted in-country with the last to occur in 2009.
Much of the data produced from these MICS pertains to humanitarian questions consistent with statistics collected by UNICEF and the Humanitarian Country Team (HCT) previously.
“This is the most thorough and wide-ranging survey that has ever been conducted in DPR Korea on the situation of children and women,” a UNICEF representative told NK News.
These questions cover subjects like attitudes towards domestic violence, reproductive contraception, mass media usage, computer skills, access to technology, and more.
WHO WAS SURVEYED AND HOW
According to the DPRK, out of the 8,500 households surveyed 5,125 are from urban areas while 3,375 are from rural parts of the country.
North Korea’s ten provinces are represented equally, it says, with 850 households from each region interviewed, though the family unit make-up and numbers will differ region to region.
A total of 4,179 men and 8,763 women between the ages of 15-49 were present in households surveyed.
Also present in the households were 2,275 children under the age of 5 and 6,052 between the ages of 5-17.
With a population of 25 million people, the sample size is small, but UNICEF says the data is accurate.
“In line with MICS methodology, the sample is representative of the DPRK population – excluding (since this is a household survey) the institutional (non-household population) which may include those in military service, old people’s homes etc,” a statement to NK News reads.
UNICEF also said that its international staff were able to make 36 visits for monitoring purposes (22 of them by MICS experts) and that a minimum of 300 households were observed.
“This is somewhat higher than most other MICS surveys in other countries,” UNICEF told NK News.
According to the body, the sampling selection was done according to protocol and involved random selection, which was later reviewed and approved of by regional MICS sampling experts.
So what does the data reveal?
POWER, APPLIANCES, AND ASSETS
Some of the most notable data compiled by the DPRK authorities pertains to North Korean household access to electricity, appliances, and indicators of wealth.
Out of the total 8,500 households questioned, the survey data claims that 100 percent have access to electricity.
Almost all of these households were reported to be connected to the electrical grid with only 0.3 percent being off the grid, but still having access to electricity.
Comparatively, according to the World Bank, in 2016 only 39.2 percent of North Koreans had access to electricity – a year prior to the current MICS data being collected.
Despite the figures, North Korea has previously and continually suffered from severe problems with its electrical supply.
The households also overwhelmingly also had access to a range of electrical appliances with 94.1% possessing a radio, 98.2% with a television and 74.2% with either a fixed line or mobile phone. A total of 75.5% of households also have a CD player.
Previous reports by Intermedia on DPRK media use and consumption – based on small surveys of North Koreans – reported similar data.
Out of the 350 North Koreans surveyed in its 2017 report, 98 percent of respondents had access to a television in the home.
“Accessible, affordable, appealing and legal, media devices such as televisions and DVD players have reached near ubiquity in North Korea, with access and ownership a common phenomenon across nearly all demographic, socio-economic and political class divides,” the report read.
Out of the 350 North Koreans surveyed in its 2017 report, 98 percent of respondents had access to a television in the home.
47.9% of women and 55.7% of men between the ages of 15-49 owned a mobile phone. However, an average of 85.65% of men and women in this demographic had used a mobile phone up to 3 months prior to their survey date.
While DPRK mobile usage data has not been forthcoming for some time, North Korea’s cellular operator Koryolink had a reported 3 million subscribers in 2015.
Especially in Pyongyang, phones have been seen to be prevalent and specialized stores selling the handheld devices have proliferated in recent years. It is perhaps no surprise then that in the capital, households had the highest rate of mobile phone ownership at 89.7 percent.
According to the survey, over 18% of households also a computer or a tablet, though despite access to such devices only 1.4% of households had access to the intranet at home.
North Korea does not provide internet access to the vast majority of its estimated 25 million citizens. Instead, it has its own internal intranet which is used to disseminate state-approved and produced information and services.
In the “household and personal assets” section, there are further indicators of access to appliances and perhaps developing wealth and ownership of goods in the DPRK.
Around third of all households surveyed own a refrigerator and above 20 percent own a freezer. Almost two-thirds own electric rice cookers and 15.5 percent own a washing machine.
Other household appliances in use include traditional solid fuel stoves, for which 85.3 percent of those surveyed use for cooking. The primary fuel used for cooking is coal (62%), while wood (20%) and clean fuels (10.1%) follow.
Most households also use coal to heat their homes (69.9%) while 21.4 percent burn wood to serve this purpose.
Other more personal indicators are also present: two-thirds of households have at least one member that owns a wristwatch for instance. In terms of owning a mode of transport, bicycles appear to be most common with 83.1 percent of households having at least one member owning a bike.
This is compared to motorcycles or scooters (5.2%) and animal-drawn carts (1%).
In terms of the houses those surveyed live in, the data paints a rather comfortable picture. The survey results claim that 99.5 percent of households have finished floors, 100 percent have finished roofs and 99.5 percent have finished walls.
Just over half the households have one room used for sleeping with 47.6 having two bedrooms and only 1.9 having three or more, with an average of 2.73 people per room used for sleeping across the board.
As with most of the indicators, Pyongyang residents surveyed have higher indicators of wealth, space and access to goods compared to other regions and rural areas especially.
MEDIA CONSUMPTION AND ICT SKILLS
North Korea consistently ranks towards the bottom of press freedom indexes year after year.
The Propaganda and Agitation Department (PAD), responsible for North Korea’s media oversight and censorship, is also sanctioned by the U.S. and UN Security Council for its activities.
According to the data collected by DPRK authorities, the PAD is succeeding in reaching its citizens with the information it produces.
According to the survey, an average of 88 percent of all men and women between the ages of 15-49 read the newspaper at least once a week. 95 percent of the same demographic listen to the radio and 98.4 percent watch television at least once per week.
A significant 99.75 percent, therefore, consume some type of media listed above at least once a week, while around 84 percent consume all three forms at least once a week.
North Korea has been extolling the virtues of science and technology as a means to boost the countries economy – at least in state media. And with over 80 percent of households not owning a computer – according to the data – it may be expected that ICT skills would be low.
The higher ICT usage and capability indicators are attributed to men rather than women
While it appears that residents are able to access the technology elsewhere and have become at least partially familiar with it, the range of functions they have performed is limited.
On average just under half of men and women surveyed have ever used a computer, with only 10 percent ever having used the country’s intranet. While the news is disseminated on the intranet as well, it appears traditional forms of media are relied on heavily.
For those who have used a computer, however, over 34 percent had copied or moved a file to a folder, 17.45 percent had used basic arithmetic formulas in a spreadsheet and 14.65 percent had transferred files between devices.
Only 4% had sent an email with attached files, only 7.45% had installed a new device such as a modern, camera or printer, only 5.8% had found, downloaded, installed and configured software and only 8.35% had created an electronic presentation.
Around 4.5 percent appear more computer literate and had written their own computer program using programming language. Overwhelming the higher ICT usage and capability indicators are attributed to men rather than women.
LIFE AT HOME
The data collected also provides insights into what life is like at home for children and couples, with questions on learning environments at home, chores, and labor.
For households with children, the vast majority of households (89.8%) contain toys either manufactured or from a shop with fewer households (41.9%) possessing homemade toys.
Over half of them also have three or more children’s books within the home and two or more types of playthings but only 2.3 percent have 10 or more children’s books.
Among children aged 7-14 in the category of having 3 or more books to read at home, 99 percent of them read those books or are read to. Close to 100 percent have homework for which 73.3 percent receive help from their parents with this task. Other indicators reveal that parents are quite active in their child’s education.
While the data appears to reflect a pro-learning environment for children, with parental involvement and oversight being common, some areas of the home life are more disciplined.
Among children aged 1-14, 43.2 percent of them experienced psychological aggression at home with around the same amount having experienced physical punishment at home.
2.8 percent of those said the punishment was “severe.”
Over half of the children (59.2%) out of the 6,449 present in the survey experienced some form of violent discipline, the data shows.
Children living in Pyongyang are far less likely to experience aggression or violence in the home as a form of punishment than their contemporaries elsewhere in the country.
Despite the rates above, only 20.8 percent of mothers or caretakers believe that a child needs to be physically punished – indicating that either the attitude is not one put into practice or fathers are administering the punishments instead.
Over half of the children (59.2%) out of the 6,449 present in the survey experienced some form of violent discipline
Children, it seems, are very familiar with work. Over 6 percent of children between 5-11 years old had been involved in economic activities for at least one hour the week prior to questioning.
A total of 36.8 percent of those between 12-14 and 40.5 percent of children between 15-17 had also been involved in such activities.
Close to 1 in 5 of those children are below the threshold age and so, therefore, were engaged in child labor.
Within the households surveyed, 3,582 children were involved in chores at home, with over half of them (58.8%) being under the child labor threshold age.
However, the survey claims that just over 5 percent of children in all households surveyed were deemed to be involved in child labor.
The majority of children involved in labor activities are from rural areas and again – in a picture of haves and have-nots – children from Pyongyang are least likely to be involved in such activities.
CONTRACEPTION, WOMEN’S HEALTH, DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
With UNICEF focusing on the needs of children and also mothers there is further insightful data relating to the female experiences in the DPRK.
The survey looks at the percentage of currently married women who are using (or whose partner is using) contraception.
Around 30 percent do not use any method of contraception, while 69 percent use modern forms and the remaining 1.3 percent use traditional forms of contraception.
The vast majority of women using contraception use an intrauterine device (IUD) at 65.4 percent. Very few use condoms (0.8%) or the pill (0.3) while 0 percent of men and 1.3 percent of women in households surveyed were sterilized.
For those not married, only 4.29 percent are using any method of contraception at all.
Conditions for women to practice women’s hygiene appear to be rather positive. Almost 100 percent of women have a private place to wash and change while at home.
Of the women in households surveyed, 55.4 percent use reusable materials for menstrual hygiene while 43.4 use non-reusable materials.
For those not married, only 4.29 percent are using any method of contraception at all
Attitudes towards domestic violence also appear to be overwhelmingly positive.
Women were asked if they believe a husband is justified in beating them under various circumstances and the vast majority of women did not believe such treatment was appropriate in the scenarios provided.
However, 1.9 percent thought it appropriate should they leave the house without telling their husband, 7.4 percent if they neglect their children, 2 percent if they argue with their husbands, 0.8 percent if they refuse sex, 1.2 percent if they burn food and 9.6 percent for any of those perceived discrepancies.
Correspondingly, male attitudes to these questions were slightly less in favour of beatings if a female left the house without notifying them (1.2%), if she neglected children (5.2%), if she argued with him (0.8%), if she refuses sex (0.8%), if she burns the food (1.7%) and for any of those reasons only 7.6 percent deemed beatings justifiable.
UNICEF have told NK News they are confident in the veracity of the data collected by the DPRK.
While NK News cannot speak to its accuracy, the claims in the survey reveal possible insights into North Korean households that are worthy of note.
Edited by Oliver Hotham