North Korean orphans ‘volunteering’ to work in coal mines, state media claims

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Children aged 16 or even younger are being forcibly enrolled into military-style work gangs in North Korea.

The teenagers, described as “orphans and students” are made to do 10-year stints of long hours and arduous labour, according to a US State Department report.

"Students suffered from physical and psychological injuries, malnutrition, exhaustion, and growth deficiencies as a result of required forced labour," the report said.

However, according to claims from North Korea’s state news agency KCNA, the graduates of orphan schools had "volunteered to work in difficult fields” such as construction sites and coal mines.

“Dozens of orphan children rushed out to the Chonnae Area Coal-mining Complex to fulfil their oath to repay even just a millionth of the love” the ruling communist party had showed over the years by educating them, the KCNA report claimed.

The teenagers “volunteered to work in major worksites for socialist construction out of their will to glorify their youth in the struggle for the prosperity of the country," the report went on.

The children “with wisdom and courage in the prime of their youth, all rose up overflowing with lofty enthusiasm to volunteer to serve” at locations including the Ryongdae Youth Coal Mine in Sunchon, the Yoldusamchon Farm in Sukchon County and the Ryongrim Cooperative Farm in Mundok County, state media claimed.

While Pyongyang has shied away from confirming reports of very young children being forced to do hazardous work, official news broadcasts are full of stories of young people “in their teens and twenties” risking their lives to fight forest fires or nobly sacrificing their lives in order to save other young people “in danger”.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un admitted in a letter to trades union leaders that the country had faced its "worst-ever difficulties" in recent years but North Korea’s national strength and prestige had been enhanced by the "ennobling loyalty and heroic struggle of the workers”.

In 2017, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child said they were “seriously concerned” about North Korean “children being requested to volunteer extensive periods of their day to work on farms and in mines,” saying this “interferes with their rights to education, health, rest and leisure.”

Meanwhile, a newly-enacted "thought crime" law has claimed its first victim after a man was executed for selling pirate DVDs, while his entire family was shipped off to a work camp.

  • Kim Jong Un
  • North Korea Dprk

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