Orphans, soldiers, students: North Korea turns to ‘volunteers’ for coal mines, construction
Orphans, enlisted soldiers and students – some appearing to be children – “volunteer” to work at manual labor in North Korea, including in coal mines, farms and large construction projects, reported the country’s state media.
Hundreds of orphan school graduates “volunteered to work in difficult fields,” according to official news agency KCNA reports.
The reports did not specify the ages of the orphans, but said they had graduated from college, and photos published in state newspapers showed young people who appeared to be teenagers.
On Saturday, KCNA reported that more than 700 orphans had volunteered to work on cooperative farms, a steel and forestry complex, among others.
On Thursday, the agency reported that around 150 graduates from three orphan schools had volunteered to work in coal mines and farms.
“(Graduates of orphan schools) volunteered to work in large socialist construction sites out of a desire to glorify their youth in the struggle for the country’s prosperity,” KCNA said. “They finished their school classes under the warm care of the Party mother.”
Drastic measures taken by North Korea to contain COVID-19 have exacerbated human rights violations and economic hardship for its citizens, including reports of famine, the United Nations has said.
According to the US State Department’s 2020 Report on Human Rights Practices, in some cases children between the ages of 16 and 17 were drafted into military-style construction brigades for periods of 10 years and subjected to long working hours and hazardous work.
“The students suffered from physical and psychological injuries, malnutrition, exhaustion and growth deficiencies as a result of the forced labor required,” the report said, despite North Korean laws prohibiting forced labor.
North Korea has denied reports of human rights violations and says the issues are politicized by its enemies.
In a letter to unions on Tuesday, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said the country had faced its “worst difficulties” in recent years, but that its national strength and prestige had been bolstered by “ennobling loyalty and the heroic struggle of the workers’ and others.
Recent state media reports have also described college students volunteering to work on big projects, and legions of army “soldier-builders” filled with the country’s conscripts working in construction.
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