Uzbekistan: Surkhandarya students pick cotton, ones in Ferghana continue their studies
The Human Rights Society Ezgulik (Mercy) reported classes suspended at approximately 600 schools out of 840 in the Surkhandarja region of Uzbekistan on the order from the regional administration's Directorate of Education.
Almost 90,000 students were ordered into cotton plantations without being told when they would be permitted to resume studies. Teachers believe that juniors will join elder students too, and before long. Ezgulik activists in the Kashkadarya and Bukhara regions report a similar situation with compulsory child labor.
Juveniles on harvesting duty in cotton plantations under the acute leadership of the local state power structures and prosecutor's office will be paid 80-90 sums ($0.05) per kilogram of the "strategic raw material" this year. Saying that children are happy to miss their classes for this sort of money will be an exaggeration. Herded out into the fields to do adult farmers' work, little cotton-pickers live and work in appalling conditions.
Harassed by the outraged international community, the Uzbek authorities acknowledged the use of compulsory child labor last autumn and even launched an official campaign for its abolition. Rights of children were proclaimed guaranteed by a special state program the authorities drew up and adopted in a hurry. Formal promises and documents predictably failed to have the desired effect.
Aware that the authorities of Uzbekistan use child labor, the international community keeps official Tashkent under pressure. Western businesses that had always bought Uzbek cotton and sellers of ready products declared a boycott.
Following in the steps of other retailers and clothes-makers throughout Europe and the United States, Kohl's voided its Uzbek contracts earlier this month. This company owns more than 1,000 stores in 49 states. It is known as one of America's 500 largest businesses and one of 30 top sellers of accoutrements.
Independent observers and human rights activists hope that the pressure from buyers of cotton will force official Tashkent to reconsider its options and put an end to the use of compulsory child labor. Wielding absolutely no influence with the authorities of their totalitarian state, the Uzbeks themselves hope for changes too.
The authorities in some regions of Uzbekistan decided to do without child labor this year. Web site Isenkor reported the Ferghana khokim (governor) meeting with his subordinates on September 22 and plainly telling them to forget about enlisting the services of children.
The regional Directorate of Education was instructed not to interrupt classes. State officials say that only adult labor will be used in the harvesting campaign this year. Rights of children were hailed as a priority of the Ferghana regional administration, child labor condemned as violation of the acting legislation.
Are changes in the offing indeed?