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The realities of the youth human rights violations in North Korea

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This issue of Eyes of Pyongyang closely examines the violation of the rights of youths in North Korea. There have been reports that students – those who will become the leaders of tomorrow – are forced to engage in hard labor. We can only hope that with unification, there would open up opportunities for these students to cultivate their future aspirations and dreams.

Perhaps one of the biggest concerns for South Korean students is the University application process, for which they take measures to limit their social lives and concentrate their time in school and academic institutions. North Korean students – other than the minority of whom live in Pyongyang – cannot dedicate their time to the academics. From their teens, North Korean students must help out with household chores: for those who reside in the country-side, students must help with farming; for those who live around markets, students must help with merchandise sales. This pattern also continues within schools, where after regular classes, students must tend to the fields.

In a testimonial given by an individual who defected in 2004 from Onsong County, North Hamgyong Province, the reality of North Korea is vividly explained: “After defecting from North Korea in 2004, I went to middle and high school in South Korea. During one of my phys-ed classes, I was surprised to see a man using a lawn mower to clean the fields. I had realized that the labor we had to take care of with our bare hands, were done with machines.”

 Youth human rights violations in North Korea


Defector A also reminisced about the recruitment of students for the farming of government-owned lands. According to her account, she stated that there were instances when classes would go on hiatus for days for student-labor related purposes: “If we stood out in the sun for even a little while, we would feel dizzy; however, we had to weed the fields. The fields were so widely stretched that I often wondered when the work would end. Then it would rain for a bit, so we would rest a little. We returned to school after three days of farming – there were students who fell ill after days of harsh labor.”

Students in their teens are engaging in labor that was difficult even for fully grown adults. Other than for labor recruitments, students also were obligated to hand in materials such as copper and steel to schools to be used for weapons production. Therefore, students had to transfer things they found on the streets to be handed into the school the next day, which included steel, copper and rabbit fur.In the South Korean society, it is hard to imagine students engaging in hard labor and being obligated to submit things such as rabbit fur, and copper and steel. This, however, is the reality of North Korea.

An individual’s adolescence should be dedicated to cultivating one’s dreams and aspirations. In North Korea, dreams are perhaps only allowed in their sleep – a defect led by division of the peninsula. We can only hope for a faster unification that can allow students to freely build their dreams.