Children Routinely Carry Heavy Loads

Former Child Prisoner of the North Korea Gulag  |  2005-10-26 13:56

Kang Chul Hwan
Mr. Kang Chul Hwan, a former child prisoner in a North Korean primary detention settlement, was born in 1968 in Pyongyang, the capital city of North Korea. He was only nine years old when his grandfather disappeared one day and he was arrested and detained in the Yodok primary detention settlement together with his grandmother, father, uncle and a sister in 1977. They were released after ten years in 1987. In 1992 he and Mr. Ahn Hyok, also a former prisoner in the same settlement, defected to South Korea. He studied business administration at Hanyang University, Seoul, and he is a journalist of the Chosun Daily.
He is co-founder of Democracy Network against North Korea Gulag, an NGO organized by North Korean defectors.

During the autumn season, my task was to carry earth from the hill behind the school to the riverside. I did not know to do the work at first so I just followed what the other children were doing. The weight of the dirt on an A-frame was 30 kilograms and I was only ten years old. I had to make the trip carrying the dirt 30times a day. By any standard, the work was too much for small children like us. But no one ever dared to complain, I managed to make the first ten rounds. Then, I felt my shoulder skin come off, my legs shaking and my body starting to collapse. The teachers were watching us very closely and mercilessly beat us with a stick if we stopped.

One of the children fell over a tree rot. He tried very hard to get up again but was so worn out that he fell again. His lips were broken and his hands were bleeding. The teacher rushed to him and raised his stick. I closed my eyes because I was fed up with watching so many children bleed from beatings.

The teacher said to him. “I will give you one more chance because you are a newcomer.” He kept scolding him for being weak and not and mot yet getting used to the work but did not beat him this time. He told the other children digging ground, “Give him less load.” But the poor child was very weak and unable to even sustain himself. The teacher said, “OK! let him take a rest for a little while.” The boy died sown under a tree.

Like the adult prisoners here, children were full go anger at each other under such difficult living conditions. His taking a rest meant more work for the other children under the collective work quota system. Children passing by all swore at him and one of then even kicked him, saying, “Hey, you good for nothing! Do not try to be smart! Get up and work!”
 
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