North Korea has generated its latest human rights controversy after claiming that orphan children are working as volunteers on state-run farms and mines.
The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), North Korea’s state-run media, released photos of a ceremony featuring hundreds of orphans it says volunteered to perform manual labor.
Over the last week the KCNA has also alleged that 700 orphans have volunteered to work in factories and on farms, as well as that “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 party showed.”
The photos and claims have been met with concern by human rights advocates, who have repeatedly accused the country’s repressive government of using forced child labor.
Just last year, a U.S. state department report found that schoolchildren in North Korea are sometimes forced to remove snow and work on construction projects, suffering serious health consequences as a result.
The accusations of modern slavery have been corroborated by numerous defectors who have managed to escape the regime.
Laura Bicker, BBC News Seoul correspondent, reports:
I’ve interviewed a number of North Korean defectors who claim to have been forced to work in the country’s coal mines.
The conditions they described were horrendous. They recalled regular fatal accidents and long hours of hard work with little food.
Few would choose this work and I am sure many human rights organisations will look at these state media reports and pictures with real concern.
North Korea, officially the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), is ruled by a totalitarian government and human rights are extremely limited.
Already isolated from the rest of the world, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced North Korea to cut itself off from its only real economic partner, China; in April, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un conceded the country was headed for tough times in a rare admission of failure.
With the government desperate to step up production and strengthen the country’s economy, its use of forced labor of both children and adults is sadly likely to increase.