June 14 (UPI) -- North Korea sends tens of thousands of forced laborers to work outside the country annually – and the system works because many North Koreans supply free labor to the regime as children.
Voice of America reported Wednesday Pyongyang has frequently claimed children in the country have "nothing to envy" but the reality is harsh for young people of less privileged backgrounds.
A teenage defector who escaped to the South told VOA she was forced to provide manual labor as a young girl in elementary school.
The defector, who goes under the pseudonym of Kim Ji-yeon, said as a third and fourth-grade student at an elementary school in South Pyongan Province, she had to carry gravel to road construction sites or bring sand to sports grounds – work that should be carried out by adults.
"Small things a child could bring, I was required to carry without condition," Kim said, adding the biggest challenge was carrying rocks and sand on the coldest winter days or the hottest summer months.
North Korea continues to deploy a low-wage adult work force to countries like Russia and China despite international condemnations, but work-related accidents are drawing attention to their plight.
Human Rights Watch issued a report on Wednesday on working conditions at seven World Cup stadium sites in Russia, where researchers documented worker exploitation, non-payment of wages, wage delays and dangerous working conditions.
A global trade union has reported 17 worker deaths at Russia's World Cup stadium sites, according to HRW.
North Korean laborers are included in the death toll, South Korean news agency Yonhap reported.
A North Korean man was found dead while working on a football stadium in St. Petersburg earlier this year, according to Josimar magazine in Norway.
It's estimated about 40,000 North Koreans work in the country.