It is unknown what will become of the young defectors, who were forcibly repatriated last week, but under North Korea's penal code, they could face a minimum of five years of hard labor, up to life in prison, or the death penalty.
The defectors, seven male and two female, were flown 'home' from China after being caught having desperately escaped from the North.
The group, aged between 14 and 22, provided a glimpse into the lives of North Korea's "ggotjebi," an underclass of vagrants who barely stay alive by begging, scavenging and stealing.
Most of the tragic youngsters who have now returned to the North are believed to be orphans found roaming around a Chinese border town by a South Korean missionary who took them in, according to activists.
"They talked about being beaten with sticks by restaurant owners after being caught for trying to steal noodles," South Korean human rights activist Ahn Kyung-su said, who met the group.
"They were smiling as they told these stories but actually, they're miserable stories," he added.
North Korea alleged yesterday that the youths were not defectors but had been kidnapped by South Koreans.
A spokesman for the Central Committee of North Korea's Red Cross Society accused South Korean traffickers of attempting to abduct the teens, and subjecting them to brainwashing and beatings.
The teens also were forced to convert to Christianity, according to the statement released yesterday by North Korean state media.
Protesters have furiously responded to the news, while the U.N. human rights chief criticised both China and Laos for allowing the nine defectors to be repatriated.
The U.S., meanwhile, has said it is very concerned about the case, and South Korea has demanded that North Korea not punish the defectors unfairly.
However, China urged the U.N. not to make "irresponsible" comments.
China, North Korea's neighbor and only ally, frequently returns desperate North Korean defectors who have sneaked across the border in search of food.
Though it is unclear how many ggotjebi are in North Korea, the number was believed to have sharply surged in the 1990s, when the country was devastated by a famine that foreign economists estimate killed hundreds of thousands of people.
In recent years, as more North Koreans have left their homeland - sometimes without telling immediate family members - the number of children abandoned by their parents has risen as well, defectors say.
"We left our children with a promise that they will only have to wait for just three days (until we can stay together again), but now we cannot even count how old they have become," defector Kim Tai-hee said at a rally in Seoul yesterday.
"We don't know the whereabouts of the children in North Korea."