There was the review of UN CRC (Committee on the Rights of the Child) on the situation of child rights in North Korea in Geneva, Switzerland. This week, I would also like to introduce the fundamental cause of violation of the child rights done by schools in North Korea. Of course, today’s talk contains the questions the members of the CRC in Geneva have asked the North Korean representatives. The content of the discussion is to be released in the form of a report in the early October. The report is expected to contain the suggestions that North Korean government need to practice until the next conference in 2022. I hope you carefully see if the North Korean government practices the suggestions.
Whenever I ask the children and parents refugees from North Korea what their hardest experience was, the majority of them say “schools forcing them economic assignments and all the forms of labor mobilization.”
According to my research report that was to cooperate with the reviews on North Korea by UN CRC, the children in North Korea were bothered with labor mobilization for 12 months a year. Especially, they were forced to sleep and work together in the village near the regional collective farm during the early summer and the busy seasons. They also had to plant rice for a full month without holidays or make nutritious jars filled with corns. Since the government assigns them with the everyday workload, they said that they could do nothing but to work in order to finish it. When they finally raised their head to head home, the sun was already setting. Children are supposed to be mobilized after the fourth year of junior high, but if the number of students in that region is relatively low, the age did not matter.
The North Korean government violates child rights under the name of “labor mobilization”, and justifies it with the concept of “field trip.” The funny thing is that the government says the North Korean labor law which has been enforced since June and billed in April says, “it is illegal to mobilize children except for a field trip.” In addition, during the UN CRC review by the United Nations, they beautified the children labor by saying “the government is carrying out the children labor in order to ensure the health of the North Korean children.” When the UN asked why they chose to enforce the children with the labor instead of exercise, gym, or sports dance, however, they could not say anything.
Mobilizing child labor is an absolute violation of child rights, but the fact that school is taking the children’s and their parents’ asset is even more serious. Under the name of “taxation” and “economic assignment,” the children and their parents are forced to bring “something” to school at least once a week. But the story goes to a completely different way if the parents are from a good family or financially prosperous. The parents would bribe homeroom teachers and get their children out of mobilization. This is well-found practice, so many children from a wealthy family would do it without any guilt. So, the children from a poor family cannot afford the economic assignment and eventually quit school. Even some children testified that when they could not afford the economic assignment, the discrimination by the homeroom teachers and classmates was so strong that they could not stand it.
The report from the North Korean government says that 98% of the students attend class, but the fact is that many teenagers cannot attend school because of unreasonable economic assignment. Also, the sources from the borderline said that from about 10% to 40% of children are not able to go to school. One of my acquittance from North Korea also said that her nephews are not getting a proper education because of the economic burden. About 20,000 to 50,000 North Korean won should be brought as school’s economic assignment, and 1kg of rice in North Korea costs only about 6,000 won. What’s worse is that the wage of teachers can only afford 500g of rice, and this is why school is becoming the cause of black money from children.
Naturally, the school and teachers favor those who are from a good family, and the children get the chances to go to a better school. It’s the circle of a rotten school system. Of course, those who have no parents or economically poor cannot even attend school for a basic education. This clearly proves that North Korea is violating children’s rights and discriminating them, which is strongly forbidden in the Convention on the Right of the Child.
Schools in North Korea strongly depend on wealthy parents because the government does not provide them with enough money and supplies. This means that school is run with parents’ money, expensive goods, and economic assignments. Therefore, the opportunity for learning is given only to the “chosen” children. Like I said, it’s the vicious circle of “rotten school system.” All the discriminations sweated labors, and the vicious circle of money exploitation through schools can be ended in some way. National Planning Commission must step out in order to allocate the budget for school, separating the parents’ economic power and school management.
The countries that have joined the CRC must ensure “the rights for the child to be protected from all the sweatshops that impede, endanger the physical, mental, ethical, and social health of the child.” This is the fundamental rights that children and their parents in North Korea should be aware of and also written in the Convention on the Right of the Child. Until the next reviews on the North Korea’s child rights situation, I hope you listeners watch carefully how much effort that the North Korean government puts as to end the vicious circle of discrimination and sweatshop of North Korean children.