Orphans, conscript soldiers and students – some appearing to be children – “volunteer” to do manual labor in North Korea, including in coal mines, farms and large construction projects, the reports said. official media of the country.
Hundreds of graduates of orphan schools “volunteered to work in difficult fields,” according to state news agency KCNA reports.
The reports did not specify the age of the orphans, but indicated that they had graduated from high school, and photos published in state newspapers showed young people who appeared to be teenagers.
On Saturday, KCNA reported that more than 700 orphans had volunteered to work on cooperative farms, a steel complex and in forestry, among other fields.
On Thursday, the agency reported that around 150 graduates from three schools for orphans had volunteered to work in coal mines and farms.
“(Graduates from schools for orphans) volunteered to work in major socialist construction sites out of a desire to glorify their youth in the struggle for the country’s prosperity,” KCNA said. “They finished their school classes under the warm care of Mother Party.”
The drastic measures taken by North Korea to contain Covid-19 have exacerbated human rights violations and economic hardship for its citizens, including reports of famine, the United Nations has said.
According to the 2020 US State Department Report on Human Rights Practices, in some cases children between the ages of 16 and 17 have been drafted into military-style construction brigades for periods of 10 years and subjected to long hours of work and hazardous work.
“The students suffered physical and psychological injuries, malnutrition, exhaustion and stunted growth due to the forced labor required,” the report says, despite North Korean laws prohibiting forced labor.
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North Korea has denied reports of human rights abuses and says the problems are politicized by its enemies.
In a letter to unions on Tuesday, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said the country had faced its “worst difficulties” in recent years, but that its national strength and prestige had been bolstered by “ennobling loyalty and the workers struggle “and others.
Recent reports in state media have also described college students volunteering to work on major projects and legions of “soldier-builders” from the country’s conscripted army working in construction.