North Korea: Child exploitation lands country in hot water

By Debra Killalea

North Korea's leader Kim Jong-Un. Photo / Getty Images
North Korea's leader Kim Jong-Un. Photo / Getty Images

They work long hours, don't get paid and have little say over what they do.

Stuck in slave-like conditions, many never get the chance to ever escape their situation.

But this is the reality for many North Koreans who are forced to work in a shocking and inhumane environment.

These people are literally servants to the country's leader Kim Jong-un - and to make it worse, many are not even adults.

Human Rights Watch has highlighted the brutal and barbaric lives youngsters face in the secretive country, with many, especially poor children, having little option of escape.

Detailing the plight of two teens who escaped from North Korea and using research and analysis from several sources, HRW said children were being exploited through forced labour and discrimination.

One teen was recruited into forced labour every day due to her family's inability to pay for schooling, while another became an unpaid worker in a home after her family was unable to support her.

The teens, who will present their accounts to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child this week, are just the tip of the iceberg, HRW claims.

HRW has called on the UN to pressure the North Korean government to put an end to forced labour and discrimination.

Deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch Phil Robertson said the conditions many children were subjected to were deplorable and must be stopped.

"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," he said.

North Korean teens Jeon Hyo-Vin, 16 and Kim Eun-Sol, 18, will reveal what they endured at the hands of the regime

Jeon experienced forced labour in school daily until she had to leave secondary school because of her family's inability to pay the required cash payments, HRW said.

Kim underwent forced labour before she was even a teenager but by 13 was forced to work in a private home after her grandmother was unable to care for her.

The teens' revelations will support evidence and widespread research that reveals how prevalent the abuse is.

According to HRW, schools, administrators, and even teachers demand students farm, help construct buildings, roads or railroads, and collect materials such as scrap metal and broken rocks, that could be used or sold by the school.

But if a quota isn't met, the student is required to pay a cash penalty, something which happens in many cases, HRW claim.

Kwon Eun-Kyoung, secretary-general at the International Coalition to Stop Crimes against Humanity in North Korea (ICNK) described the situation as shocking.

"Children who end up in North Korean forced labour brigades live under terrible conditions, and are not free to leave," Kwon said.

North Korean children working at gu ob railway station. Photo / Getty Images
North Korean children working at gu ob railway station. Photo / Getty Images

It wouldn't be the first time revelations of child labour have surfaced and North Korea's human rights record has been questioned.

Last December, shocking footage emerged which revealed children as young as five doing hard labour.

The footage, released by UK newspaper The Mirror, showed young children working as a chain gang in a rail yard under the harsh sun.

Using hammers and axes, the youngsters can be seen hauling large sacks of heavy rocks as their teachers and other adults bark orders at them.

Just last month, it also emerged that North Korea's Masikryong Ski Resort, popular with the country's elite, has thousands of men, women and children working on the site often under horrendous conditions.

Using pickaxes, sticks and wooden shovels, workers are engaged in backbreaking work clearing the snow, NBC revealed.

The broadcaster also found some of the children appeared to be only 11 or 12 while many others looked to be teenagers.

The Global Slavery Index last year found an estimated 1.1 million North Koreans are currently involved in forced labour.

The North Korean government claims it abolished child labour 70 years ago, however HRW says there is widespread evidence to the contrary.

- news.com.au

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