Japan’s conscription of girls detailed

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Japan’s conscription of girls detailed

A government commission released a report Monday detailing how hundreds of young girls were forced to work in harsh labor conditions under Japanese colonial rule, including children as young as 9 years old.

The forced labor investigation commission set up by the Prime Minister’s Office released an investigation of 1,039 cases of young women forced to work by Japan either here in Korea, Japan, China or Russia.

The cases did not include the so-called comfort women, or females forcibly recruited by the Japanese Army as sex slaves during World War II.

One survivor of the forced labor, now 80 years old, was recruited when she was just 9 years old.

She lost her vision in one eye at a Japanese cotton factory in Incheon after a supervisor jabbed her in the eye for dozing off on the job.

The women’s average age was 16.46, according to the report, while those recruited to work in factories were, on average, 13.2 years old.

That was lower than the limit of 14 years old set by international law at the time.

The Prime Minister’s Office set up the commission in 2010 to focus on the plight of conscripted workers during the colonial period.

Attention was already being paid to the women forced into sexual slavery during the war and men forced to work in Japan.

The investigation also tried to determine if there were physical effects after the conscripted labor such as developmental disorders or post-trauma stress disorders.

The report said 27 girls died on the job, a third of which were under the age of 14.

Japan prohibited children aged 14 and younger from working in factories in its own country following an International Labor Organization convention in 1919.

But this law was not applied to youths recruited from Korea.

In 1941, Japan announced that the age restrictions for conscription in Japan was between 16-40, the commission said. But not in Korea.

“The difference in the ages of conscripted labor between Japan and Korea at that time shows the reality that the Japanese government forced Korean children into labor,” an official from the commission said.

Some 614 girls were recruited to work in factories, or some 59 percent of conscripted females analyzed by the commission, while 143 were sent to coal mines, 121 were sent to farms and 17 to construction sites. They were often forced into heavy labor such as moving coal.

Most of the girls were from the North Gyeongsang, Jeolla and Chungcheong regions.

Over half were sent to Japan, and nearly a third worked in Japanese ventures in Korea. The remainder was sent to China and Russia.

Once World War II spread into the Asia-Pacific region, conscription numbers grew from 190 in 1942, 231 in 1943 and 272 in 1944.

Some young victims recounted that they were lured by the Japanese government by advertisement from recruiters stating they were “gathering children to go to school.” Other girls tried to run away but were forced back to work.

The commission said Korea has to come up with measures to further investigate these victims of conscription and try to get them some compensation.


BY SARAH KIM [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]

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