North Korean orphans ‘volunteering’ for coal mine work, state media reports

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<p>North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, attends a ceremony to inaugurate the start of a building project in Pyongyang</p> (KCNA/Reuters)

North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, attends a ceremony to inaugurate the start of a building project in Pyongyang


North Korean orphans are “volunteering” to work manual labour jobs in coal mines, farms and large construction projects, according to the country’s state media.

Hundreds of graduates of orphan schools “volunteered to work in difficult fields”, state news agency KCNA said, along with conscripted soldiers and students.

The reports did not specify the orphans’ ages, but said they had graduated from middle schools and photos published in state newspapers showed youths 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 in forestry, among other areas.

The agency had reported on Thursday that around 150 graduates from three orphan schools had volunteered to work at coal mines and farms.

“[The graduates of orphan schools] 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,” KCNA said. “They finished their school courses under the warm care of the mother Party.”

Drastic measures taken by North Korea to contain Covid-19 have exacerbated human rights abuses and the economic hardships faced by its citizens, including reports of starvation, the United Nations has said.

According to the 2020 US State Department report on human rights practices, in some cases children ages 16 and 17 were enrolled in military-style construction brigades for 10-year periods and subjected to long working hours and hazardous work.

“Students suffered from physical and psychological injuries, malnutrition, exhaustion, and growth deficiencies as a result of required forced labour,” the report said, despite North Korean laws banning forced labour.

North Korea has denied reports of human rights abuses, and says the issues are politicised by its enemies.

In a letter to trade unions on Tuesday, North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, said the country had faced its “worst-ever difficulties” in recent years but that its national strength and prestige have been enhanced by the “ennobling loyalty and heroic struggle of the workers” and others.

Recent state media reports have also described university students volunteering to work on major projects, and legions of “soldier-builders” from the country’s conscript-filled military working in construction.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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