North Korea forcing children as young as seven to work, report says –

Older teenagers, often from poor families, can be strong-armed to join paramilitary forced labour brigades, where they may be left to toil for up to ten years without pay, said HRW.  

The North Korean government claims to have abolished child labour 70 years ago. Officials are known to refer to the tasks as “team-building” exercises for the good of the country.

“Forcing children to work is an egregious human rights abuse condemned worldwide, but for many North Korean students, it’s a part of their everyday life,” said Phil Robertson, HRW’s deputy Asia director.

“The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child should demand that Pyongyang tell the truth about these abusive practices and immediately bring them to a halt.”

The group’s findings, currently being presented to the UN in Geneva, include evidence from two teenagers who managed to escape. Jeon Hyo-Vin, 16, said she experienced forced labour in school almost every day.

Her comments were mirrored by Kim Eun-Sol, 18, who said her school forced her to work even before she was a teenager. At 13, with her mother working abroad in China, she became an unpaid worker in a private home in order to survive.

North Korea has been accused in the past of forced child labour. In December, shocking footage obtained by the Daily Mirror showed young children on a production line to fix a railway track.

The film revealed little girls hammering the tracks, and boys carrying heavy stones to wheelbarrows.

“From mass mobilisations in agriculture to back-breaking work in North Korea’s lucrative coal export trade coal production, forced labour is a major component of every childhood in North Korea,” said Michael Glendinning, director of the European Alliance for Human Rights in North Korea.

“The physical harm done to children working in the coal industry is obvious. The mental health implications are perhaps less studied, but almost as certainly as bad.”

Britain’s ambassador to the UN, Matthew Rycroft, has previously described forced labour in North Korea as “modern slavery”.


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