Dire economic straits compounded by a weakening regime have led to an increase in prostitution, drug abuse and human trafficking in North Korea. The regime blames the negative influence of capitalism and is cracking down hard on offenders.
Intelligence officials here say these problems are spreading especially in parts of the North close to the Chinese border.
In the past, prostitution in North Korea existed primarily near military barracks or train stations, but a growing number of young women in all parts of the country are turning to prostitution to earn a living or make money to buy cosmetics, mobile phones or cover their wedding costs.
According to one source, prostitution rings began to crop up in the mid-2000s, and now even university students are turning to prostitution. Their clients are often high-ranking officials.
Sexual promiscuity is generally on the rise. According to sources, condoms were the best-selling product in a large open-air market in Hyesan, Ryanggang Province bordering China last year.
A physical exam for the military draft of 16-year-olds years in Chongjin showed that more than 60 percent of the girls had had sexual experiences, said a North Korean defector who used to be a ranking official in the Workers Party.
Virginity is a prerequisite for the song-and-dance troupes who entertain the North Korean dictator, and the defector said officials had a hard time finding any virgins.
There are also accounts of an increase in sexually transmitted diseases in some parts of North Korea.
Drug dealing began to spread throughout North Korea in the 2000s. There are drug factories in the Sunan district of Pyongyang and Munchon, Kangwon Province whose illicit products are strictly for sale overseas to generate dollar revenues for the regime. But now ordinary people also put their hands to drug production and dealing.
"The whole of North Korean society is being affected by illegal drugs," said another defector. "Some wealthy people use them to lose their weight and other people take them to treat colds and fatigue. They are considered wonder cures in North Korea."
Sources say more than 30 percent of athletes tested positive for drug use in a doping test for a sporting event in 2012 to mark late leader Kim Jong-il's birthday on Feb. 16.
During the harsh famine in the mid to late 1990s, human traffickers lured hungry women with food and sold them to pimps in China. However, since 2000, North Korean women voluntarily cross the border into China apparently knowing the dangers that await them.