Child labor continues in Uzbek cotton fields
International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) issued a report on 'Child Labor' in Uzbekistan. This report is based on information gathered by human rights defenders within Uzbekistan in September/October 2008. Contrary to the government of Uzbekistan's assertions that it has banned forced child labor, recent information suggests it continues to compel children as young as 11 and 12 to pick cotton, closing schools and using other coercive measures to enforce compliance.
Although Uzbekistan has recently signed two ILO conventions against forced and child labor, and issued a new decree ostensibly prohibiting the practice, information from around the country shows that the government continues to rely on the state-orchestrated mass mobilization of children to bring in the 2008 cotton harvest. Uzbekistan is the world's third largest exporter of cotton, and cotton is that country's largest source of export revenue.
Children already in the fields for weeks
According to reports from nine of Uzbekistan's twelve territorial units, (Jizzakh, Fergana, Namangan, Syr Daria, Surkhandaria, Bukhara, Khorezm, Tashkent and Samarkand provinces) by the third week of of September local governments and school administrators had already sent children as young as the seventh grade (ages 13-14), and in some cases as young as fifth grade (11-12) out to the fields to pick cotton. By the end of September, pressure to bring in the harvest before rains began near the end of the month led local officials to order the smallest schoolchildren, from first grade on, to labor on the harvest.
In Fergana, schools were closed and children were sent out from September 22, though a week earlier those same schools forced children to sign statements that they would remain in school over the fall semester. Journalists on the scene suggested that these statements were intended to give local government officials plausible deniability if the children's presence in the fields was challenged.
In one Namangan district, journalists and human rights defenders observed children from several schools, some as young as eleven, picking cotton. The children reported that each day local government officials and bureaucrats from the local education department would visit the fields to check up on the number of pupils out picking, and to make sure that harvest targets were being met.
The Samarkand provincial government also sent its school children out to pick cotton on September 22. Children as young as 13 were forced from their classrooms on that date, though high school, junior college as well as university students (ages sixteen and above) had already been sent out to the fields for several weeks by that time, according to sources in the province.
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International Labor Rights Forum