Human Rights Groups Report Uzbek Children Working in Cotton Fields
The Uzbek German Forum for Human Rights has issued more reports on the cotton season in Uzbekistan with accounts of the use of forced child labor in the harvest, despite laws passed last year to end this practice. About 1.5-2. million schoolchildren between the ages of 10-16 have been forced to pick cotton each year from September-November, and so far, judging from accounts from various local human rights groups, this season is no different.
According to a report from the BBC's Uzbek Service, Tashkent-based human rights activist Elena Urlaeva reports that children in the Upper Chirchik District were being taken out of school to pick the cotton. When Urlaeva saw the fields were being guarded by troops from the mayor's office, the prosecutor's office and the police, she went around to the back of the field and crawled through the rows to reach the children and talk to them. But police seized Urlaeva's phone and deleted pictures she had been taking of the children working in the fields.
The children interviewed said that officials had forbidden them to mention that they were picking cotton and to say they are in school. In fact, they are being sent to school in the morning, but their book bags have bread and water instead of books and then they are taken to the fields. Children complained they had been picking cotton for four days, and their arms were scratched from the bushes. They did not have the right shoes suitable for field work, and were not given proper bags to hold the cotton.
Bakhtiyor Khamroev of Djizzakh told the BBC that children were being sent to pick cotton in his area. Since September 13, all the high schools and colleges were closed and students went sent to the fields. With rainy weather, schoolchildren were pressed into service. Although human rights activists have written protests to authorities they have not been discontinuing the process.
Not all the students in the fields are underage, but they are nevertheless forced to leave their studies and bring in the harvest for very low wages. In Samarkand, 15,000 students from six universities were mobilized to pick cotton, and were paid about 5-6 cents a kilogram, at a time when a pound of cotton on the international market fetches at least 85 cents per pound. Prices on the black market for medical certificates to excuse students from field labor are going for $200-250 on the black market. Students are also paying day laborers $5-7 dollars a day to take their place.
Each year, the rural people of Uzbekistan, state workers commanded to work on the harvest, and numerous school children and college students forced to work pick more than 3 tons of cotton, working for about two and a half months.