Kim Jong Un appears to cry as he calls for women to have more children

The North Korean leader appeared to wipe away tears at the National Mothers' Meeting as he said it's a duty of women to halt a fall in the country’s birthrates.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un appeared to wipe away tears as he said it is a duty of women to halt a fall in the country’s birthrate.

Women must help to strengthen national power, state media said on Monday, as Kim’s government steps up the call for the people to have more children.

While getting a detailed read on North Korea’s population trends is extremely difficult because of the limited statistics it discloses, South Korea’s government assesses that the North’s fertility rate has declined steadily for the past ten years.

It is a concerning development for a country that depends on mobilised labour to help keep its broken, heavily sanctioned economy afloat.

North Korean women attend the National Mothers’ Meeting in Pyongyang. / Credit: AP

Kim’s latest appeal for women to have more children was made on Sunday during the country’s National Mothers Meeting – the first of its kind in 11 years.

“Stopping the decline in birthrates and providing good child care and education are all our family affairs that we should solve together with our mothers,” he said in his opening speech.

According to South Korea’s government statistics agency, North Korea’s total fertility rate, or the average number of babies expected to be born to a woman over her lifetime, was at 1.79 in 2022, down from 1.88 in 2014.

The decline is still slower than its wealthier rival South Korea, whose fertility rate last year was 0.78, down from 1.20 in 2014.

South Korea’s fertility rate, the lowest in the developed world, is believed to be due to a number of reasons discouraging people from having babies, including a decaying job market, a brutally competitive school environment for children, traditionally weak child care assistance and a male-centered corporate culture where many women find it impossible to combine careers and family.

While North Korea is one of the poorest nations in the world, the change in its demographic structure is similar to that of rich countries, some observers say.

North Korea implemented birth control programs in the 1970-80s to slow a post-war population growth.

The country’s fertility rate recorded a major decline following a famine in the mid-1990s that was estimated to have killed hundreds of thousands of people, the Seoul-based Hyundai Research Institute said in a report in August.

“Given North Korea lacks resources and technological advancements, it could face difficulties to revive and develop its manufacturing industry if sufficient labor forces are not provided,” the institute report said.

According to North Korean state media reports this year, the country has introduced a set of benefits for families with three or more children, including preferential free housing arrangements, state subsidies, free food, medicine and household goods and educational perks for children.

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