North Korea restaurants
North Korean restaurants recently came to limelight after 13 workers defected to South Korea en masse Reuters

Hit by economic sanctions, North Korea is thought to have shut down more than 30 restaurants in several foreign nations. Businesses such as the restaurants indirectly run by the Pyongyang regime are a key source of income for the isolated country.

According to a source familiar with the development, cited by South Korea's Yonhap news agency, the closing down of the restaurants signals how badly the North has been affected by the UN-engineered sanctions.

Some estimates suggest that Pyongyang runs as many as 130 restaurants in Asian nations such as China and Vietnam bankrolling the regime up to $10m (£7.6m) a year. Most of the restaurant workers sent abroad are handpicked by the regime so as to prevent defections. Many of them are usually loyal party workers and their children.

Another source quoted by the South Korean news agency said: "Some restaurants in China are believed to push North Korean female minors into serving customers despite the visas issued by Chinese authorities only allowing them to hold performances at restaurants."

North Korean restaurant workers gained much attention in recent months after a group of 13 people reportedly defected to South Korea abandoning their work from a Pyongyang-managed place in China. However, Pyongyang contested the claims saying they were lured by Seoul.

About 50,000 North Koreans, including some minors, have been sent to various countries to earn money for Pyongyang. This has come under increasing scrutiny from the international community as they have said the money generated by these workers ultimately ends up funding the North's missile and nuclear programmes.