Middle school students in North Korea mobilized to harvest opium resin 

University students mobilized for work in North Korea.
University students mobilized for work in North Korea. Image: Kang Dong Wan (Dong-A University)

The Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) continues to cultivate large opium fields in the northern region of North Korea and recently mobilized school students to harvest the crop, according to sources inside the country.

“Most of the students were middle schoolers aged from 14 to 15 years old,” said a South Pyongan Province-based source. “The students collected the resin from the crops on orders from party and school officials at the farm, and also helped dry out the opium to produce opium powder.”

Poppy plants normally bloom in June and July, yielding fruit. Farmers must extract resin from the unripened fruit before they fully ripen in September in order to produce opium.

After bruising the unripened fruit to extract the resin, farmers will then lightly heat the resin at 60 degrees celsius, or dry it out. This creates a brown ball of adhesive resin, referred to as “fresh opium” or “opium resin.”

A separate source in South Pyongan Province reported that the resin harvesting refers to the entire process involving the collection of resin from unripened poppy seeds. Opium farms have to finish this process before the fruit completely ripens in August.

As part of efforts during the 1980s to earn foreign currency, North Korea built an immense opium farm called Paekdoraji in the northern region of the country sprawling over the two Hamgyong provinces, Jagang Province and Ryanggang Province. A considerable workforce is needed to collect the opium resin and so the North Korean authorities appear to have resorted to mobilizing students in their teens.

North Korea’s Socialist Constitution and Socialist Labor Law, however, prohibits anyone younger than 16 to work under such conditions.

Article 31 of the Socialist Constitution and Article 15 of the Socialist Labor Law state that the legal age for work starts at age 16.

The mobilization of 14 and 15-year-old students to the fields also violates the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), which North Korea has ratified. UNCRC puts forth basic rights to protect the rights of children under the age of 18, and signatory nations are required to protect these rights through legislative, legal and administrative measures.

As a signatory to the treaty, North Korea submits a report to the UN Child Rights Committee and its fifth report was submitted in 2016, which stated that students were “encouraged to visit factories and farms as part of extra-curricular activity.”

There are continuing reports of students being mobilized for work. The Korea Institute for National Unification (KINU)’s North Korean Human Rights White Paper 2019, published in June, stated that North Korean students are “regularly” mobilized into a wide range of projects, including farming and construction activities, as part of their “education.” The report also stated that “the use of students to supplement [North Korea’s] lack of labor has little to do with any educational aim.”

Daily NK earlier reported in July through South Hamgyong Province-based sources that middle school students on summer vacation were mobilized to harvest tobacco leaves at the Samchon Tobacco Farm.


Ha Yoon Ah is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about her articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.