The Gippeumjo (translated variously as "Pleasure Group," "Pleasure Groups," "Pleasure Squad," "Pleasure Brigade," "Joy Brigade," or "Joy Division") is a collection of groups of approximately 2,000 women and girls between the ages of 13 and 40 (although most are believed to be between 18 and 25), which are maintained by the head of state of North Korea for the purpose of providing pleasure and entertainment for high-ranking Workers' Party of Korea (WPK) officials and their families, as well as occasionally also distinguished guests.
Little is known outside North Korea about the Gippeumjo, but information has gradually emerged through the testimony of North Koreans who have defected.
The Gippeumjo was established in 1978, during the administration of Kim Il-sung, with the first group being recruited by Lee Dong Ho, the First Vice Director of the Department of United Front of the WPK, for the purpose of entertaining Kim at the Munsu Chodaeso (문수 초대소; Munsu Guesthouse). The recruiting and training of Gippeumjo are currently administered by the Fifth Department of Staff of the Organic Direction of the Party and continues to be maintained by his grandson, Kim Jong-un.
Each "pleasure group" is composed of three "teams":
- Manjokjo (hangul: 만족조; hanja: 滿足組) – a "satisfaction team" (which provides sexual services)
- Haengbokjo (hangul: 행복조; hanja: 幸福組) – a "happiness team" (which provides massages)
- Gamujo (hangul: 가무조; hanja: 歌舞組) – a "dancing and singing team" (whose members are sometimes asked to dance semi-nude)
Girls from throughout the country are recruited to be Gippeumjo members according to government criteria (one of which is that they must be virgins). After being selected, they undergo a rigorous training period, with some Haengbokjo members being sent overseas for massage training. Gippeumjo members typically "retire" at age 22 or 25, at which time they are often married to other members of North Korea's elite, and their former membership in the Gippeumjo is kept secret.
The first two syllables of the name, gippeum, is a native Korean word meaning “joy” or "happiness". The suffix jo (組) is a Sino-Korean word which describes a group of people. Kim Il-sung is believed to have established this corps of women in the belief that having sexual relations with young women would have the effect of enhancing his life force, or gi (hangul: 기; hanja: 氣; no relation to the gi in gippeum).
- Jeong, Ji Sun (April 6, 2004). "Intervention Agenda Item 13: Rights of Children; UN Commission on human rights". A Woman's Voice International. http://www.awomansvoice.org/nl1-2004-2.html. Retrieved 2007-02-08.
- Becker, Jasper (October 11, 2003). "North Korea: At Home With the Kims". Asia Times. http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Korea/EJ11Dg04.html. Retrieved 2007-02-08.
- Yoel, Sano (June 4, 2005). "The Kims' North Korea: Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader: North Korea and the Kim Dynasty by Bradley K Martin". Book review (Asia Times). http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Korea/GF04Dg03.html. Retrieved 2007-02-08.