In North Korea, Desperate and Hungry Citizens Kidnap Two Children of Well-off Families, Demand Ransom

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A woman and child walk before a propaganda poster in Pyongyang on May 8, 2016. / AFP / Ed Jones (Photo credit should read ED JONES/AFP via Getty Images)

Worsening economic conditions in the isolated country of North Korea has inspired some desperate citizens to kidnap at least two children, in separate incidents, in an attempt to extract ransom money from families who are seen as “well-off”, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported. 

A dire food crisis and a buckling economy due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic are being cited as the catalyst for the desperate moves.

A resident of South Pyongan province, just north of North Korea’s capital of Pyongyang told RFA’s Korean service on Sunday that “A six-year-old girl disappeared in Songchon county while playing by the river in front of her house in the middle of this month,” adding that, “She was kidnapped and taken hostage by a man in his 30s living in a faraway village from hers. The kidnapper knew that her family was well-off and even got her parents’ cellphone number before he took her to get ransom money.”

According to RFA’s source, who wished to remain anonymous, the kidnapper locked the girl up in a storage area in his house and then called her parents and demanded 500,000 won or approximately $US 75.00. 

Police were able to track down the kidnapper via his cell phone. He is currently in custody and once an investigation is complete is expected to be sent to a correctional facility. 

Another incident involved a 10-year-old boy who was walking along a mountain road in Yangdok county when a man in his 40s approached him on a motorcycle to offer the child a ride home. 

The man was apprehended after the boy reported the incident to a local police officer after he managed to escape and return home on his own.

A source told RFA that the second kidnapper “got the idea for his crime from the movies.”

“He confessed during the police investigation that he borrowed his friend’s motorcycle to copy a scene from a foreign movie in which actors took a hostage for ransom. He said he had no food to eat and was suffering from hunger,” the source said.

A confluence of devastating floods, COVID-19 supply chain disruptions, poor harvests and a drastic decrease in imports from China is contributing to a dire food shortage in the rogue nation.

No reports of mass starvation or social unrest have surfaced out of North Korea but experts expect a further deterioration of the country’s food supplies until the autumn harvest.

It’s estimated that North Korea requires around 5-million tonnes of food to feed its 26-million citizens and that this year North Korea is short approximately one million tonnes.