Orphans, conscripted soldiers and students – some appear to be children – “volunteer” to do handicrafts in North Korea, including in coal mines, farms and large construction projects, the country’s state media reported.
According to reports from state news agency KCNA, hundreds of orphan school graduates have “volunteered to work in difficult areas.”
The reports did not indicate the age of the orphans, but did state that they had finished middle school and photos published in state newspapers showed teenagers who appeared to be in their teens.
On Saturday, KCNA reported that more than 700 orphans had volunteered to work on cooperative farms, an iron and steel complex, and forestry, among other things.
On Thursday, the agency reported that around 150 graduates from three orphan schools had volunteered to work in coal mines and farms.
“(Orphan school graduates) volunteered to work in key jobs for socialist construction, out of the will to glorify their youth in the struggle for the country’s prosperity,” said KCNA. “They finished their school courses under the warm care of the mother party.”
North Korea’s drastic measures to contain Covid-19 have exacerbated human rights abuses and economic hardships for its citizens, including reports of hunger, according to the United Nations.
According to the U.S. Department of State’s 2020 Human Rights Practices Report, in some cases, children aged 16 and 17 were enrolled in military-style construction brigades for 10 years, exposed to long hours and hazardous work.
“The students suffered physical and mental injuries, malnutrition, exhaustion and lack of growth as a result of the required forced labor,” the report said, despite North Korean law prohibiting forced labor.
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North Korea has denied reports of human rights abuses, saying the issues are politicized by its enemies.
In a letter to the trade unions on Tuesday, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said the country had faced the “worst troubles” of all time in recent years, but that its national strength and reputation was due to “ennobling loyalty and reputation.” heroic struggle of unions “been strengthened workers” and others.
Recent reports in the state media also described students volunteering for major projects and legions of “soldier farmers” from the country’s conscripted military working in construction.