Nov. 22 (UPI) -- North Korean defectors who have begun to provide testimonies to the South Korean government say it was not uncommon for orphaned children to subsist on corn extracted from cow dung, or lice, during the years of the Great Famine.
Defector Lee Wi-ryeok told Daily NK on Wednesday he survived his childhood in a North Korean orphanage during the late '90s, but the memory of his experience haunts him to this day.
Lee did not identify the orphanage where he lived until he was a teenager, but said diseases like tuberculosis were deadly because there was no cure.
"After I came to South Korea, I was amazed to learn tuberculosis is a disease that can be treated," Lee said.
Food was scarce in the country, but in orphanages, the conditions were even direr than in the rest of the country, Lee said.
"If a cow excreted kernels of corn in the form of diarrhea, we would rinse them out and eat those," Lee said.
The defector also said children at the orphanage would eat lice to stay full.
"When you bite into lice they would burst with blood," Lee said, adding children would eat lice because they contained their blood, and they thought it would "be a waste" not to consume the parasite.
Lee said North Korean orphanage administrators would build a bonfire on the grounds to disinfect children from mites.
The administrators would "beat the children with a stick" if the children tried to escape the encircling bonfire.
The victims would often suffer from painful burns, Lee said.
North Korea is a signatory to the United Nations' Convention on the Rights of the Child since 1990.
The Kim Jong Un regime has repeatedly denied human rights abuses, and has instead blamed countries like the United States for tensions.
Radio Free Asia reported Tuesday North Korean authorities in the country have been preparing underground facilities for the country's postal service in preparation for potential war.
RFA's North Korea sources said the maneuver is irritating locals because authorities are trying to create extra tension and mobilize people to donate funds for the cause.