students, school, children, education
This 2010 photo shows North Korean girls on their way to school. (Roman Harak, Creative Commons, Flickr)

A third-grade boy at an elementary school in Hamhung, South Hamgyong Province, got in an accident and broke his arm while being forced to load a garbage truck at his school, Daily NK has learned.

“A nine-year-old surnamed Kim fell off a garbage truck and broke his arm while doing trash duty at the end of September,” a source in the province told Daily NK on Monday, speaking on condition of anonymity for security reasons. 

“The boy’s job was to grab the waste basket that was being passed along and dump its contents into the hopper. But the basket ended up being too heavy for him, and he lost his footing.

“In North Korea, even little kids are forced to do all kind of labor at schools. Kids from poor families who don’t have enough to eat at home are still expected to take care of the trash at school,” the source remarked.

According to the source, there are trash collection site at all schools in North Korea, from elementary schools to universities. When the collection sites are full, each grade takes turns loading the garbage truck.

The grade whose turn it is has to deal with all aspects of garbage disposal on its own: not only loading the garbage truck but also hiring the truck, paying for the gas and compensating the driver. That is all up to students’ families, the source explained.

Students in the first and second grades of elementary school are expected to cover the costs of moving the trash, just like students in higher grades. But since moving trash from the collection site onto the garbage truck is too challenging and dangerous for young children, their parents are brought in for that task.

Beginning with the third grade, students have to load the garbage truck themselves. But that is no easy task for children who are not even 10 years old, the source said.

When loading the trash, each grade is divided into three teams. The first team puts trash into a basket, the second team passes the basket down the line, and the final team of two stand on the truck, grab the baskets that are passed along, and dump them into the hopper.

“In the past, parents didn’t take issue with the labor assignments given to students at school. But young parents today are very unhappy that their children are being forced to do labor at school,” the source said.

“The parents of the boy whose arm was broken went to see his homeroom teacher and complained that he’d been forced to do dangerous work. But the complaint went nowhere because the teacher hadn’t technically done anything wrong.

“When it comes right down to it, the real responsibility lies with schools, which force children to perform labor, and the government, which doesn’t consider that a problem. This is an excellent example of how the educational environment that’s praised so much in government propaganda is actually terrible and how harmful it is for students.”

Translated by David Carruth. Edited by Robert Lauler. 

Daily NK works with a network of sources who live inside North Korea, China and elsewhere. Their identities remain anonymous due to security concerns. More information about Daily NK’s reporting partner network and information gathering activities can be found on our FAQ page here.  

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