HRW on Forced and Child Labor
Earlier this month Human Rights Watch issued a policy brief concerning forced and child labor in North Korea based on the testimonies of 65 refugees interviewed in Thailand and South Korea. The brief cites eyewitness testimonies of coerced labor, extreme punishments, and child labor, including child labor organized by teachers. The testimonies are consistent with those from a variety of other sources, though needless to say they are impossible to verify directly.
Article 31 of the North Korean constitution prohibits child labor and establishes a minimum working age of 16. Following the lead we set in Witness to Transformation, HRW calls for North Korea to join the International Labor Organization (ILO) which would commit the government to number of standards including the eradication of forced labor, child labor, and respect for the right to freedom of association, and the right to collective bargaining. Obviously, today these standards are notable for the absence in North Korea. But joining the ILO would do more than raise the standards. In the case of child labor, tactically it would create a mechanism to encourage North Korea to enforce its existing constitutional provisions, about as low a hurdle as one can set.