Ever since the mid 90s, around the time when Kim Jong Il took power in North Korea, there have been widespread food shortages that have only gotten worse over time. There have been plenty of reports of people eating mud, grass and raw acorns to try and survive, but at the extreme end, when things get absolutely desperate, people have apparently turned to cannibalism— often kidnapping young children that are then turned into meat on the black market.
From June of this year:
The latest claims are based on a 791-page manual for North Korean police printed in 2009. The report uses previous events as examples to help train police what to look for and how to deal with different situations. The manual listed five cannibalism-related cases but did not give a great deal of detail on them.
A pertinent question would be whether the cannibalism was done by way of scavenging the already dead or through predation on the living. In at least one case, it was the latter*:
In one account, a male guard who could not bear his hunger killed his colleague using an ax, ate some of the human flesh and sold the remainder in the market by disguising it as mutton, the report said, without giving any further details such as when the alleged crime occurred.
Starvation in North Korea is tied to the political system since food distribution is based on being among those considered to be politically reliable by the regime. The emergence of private markets after the collapse of the central distribution system in the late 1990s has alleviated the worst of the problems, but not completely so and there are concerns that North Koreans will have to go through another round of hunger this summer.
And another report, about children being kidnapped and graves being robbed for meat:
Anyone caught selling human meat faces execution, but in a report compiled by the North Korean Refugees Assistance Fund (NKRAF), one refugee said: “Pieces of ‘special’ meat are displayed on straw mats for sale. People know where they came from, but they don’t talk about it.”
“If a funeral takes place during the day and the burial is performed that evening, the grave may be dug open and the body stolen before morning,” said one refugee.
Another witness, named only as Lee, 54, said he feared that his missing grandsons, aged eight and 11, had been killed for food. As he searched widely for them, they boys’ friends said they had vanished near a market. Mr Lee said police who raided a nearby restaurant found body parts. The business’s owners were shot. Gerald Bourke, the WFP’s representative in Beijing, said it was difficult for his organisation to substantiate the reports of cannibalism as they were unable to get to the markets. “As in any desperately poor country, it is something we might stumble on,” he said. “It’s not just a problem for us, but also our donors.” Because of the food shortages, many people were having to survive on nine ounces of rations a day – less than half the recommended minimum daily intake.