Uzbek field chronicle-2009: the Syr Darya children
Photo by author, September 29, 2009
Few days ago the secondary school children in the Syr Darya Oblast of Uzbekistan flooded the cotton fields just as their counterparts in other regions. Unlike in the previous years, this year the local authorities officially instructed to attract only 14 plus kids, 7th graders, for cropping of "white gold". Nonetheless, as well as in the previous years, one can also see12-13 year old working children. Ferghana.Ru correspondent gave a visit to Syr Darya on Tuesday in order to witness the current events.
Syr Darya is a small town with 30 thousand of population, located 75 kilometers away from Tashkent. It used to be big industrial center, but now it is a very small town with very few jobs: the younger people try to make a living in Tashkent and near abroad. Therefore, it is understandable that during the season almost all local residents are involved in cotton cropping.
Everybody is gone for cotton!
Presumably, they all are ready to grow the national cotton wealth. Multiple signs at the front doors of many buildings "Cotton-2009" remind war-period messages.
Besides, the police is blocking all the exit roads from the city during the day. All bazaars are also shut for day hours and, paradoxically, they start operating no earlier than 6pm.
During the cotton season the police is blocking the exit roads from the city
My colleague and I headed to Syr Darya in the early morning in order to show up in the beginning of the work shift. Near the Tashkent subway station we hired the private taxi driver, the native resident of Syr Darya. Taxi-driving is the only way he can earn money to support the family.
The cotton at the fields of Uzbekistan
On the way to Syr Darya the taxi driver shared that cotton harvest time kicked off on September 20 for grownups and on September 25 for schoolchildren of 7th and higher grades. This means that from now on all the schools in the Oblasts are closed for 14-16 years old students.
- My 14 year old son and his classmate work at the fields until 5-6pm. Lunch is not provided by the organizers – the taxi driver says. – They pay 85 sums per one kilo of the cotton (less than 5 cents – editorial note). Gathering 15-20 kilos per day he makes 1500 sum.
Despite the criticism of human rights activists and boycott by the producers, the government of Uzbekistan continues to force children to work at the cotton plantations
According to our driver, his son was also involved in cotton harvesting in the last two years. When it was raining the father prohibited him to go to work. In these cases, later in the evening he had to meet the school teachers that put pressure on the family.
Passing by the town, we arrived in one of the farmlands where besides the students of Tashkent universities we also witnessed the schoolchildren. To be honest, we did not notice the students of elementary schools, but 12-13 year old kids.
One of the farmlands in the Syr Darya Oblast of Uzbekistan
- I am 14 and all of my classmates, except for those who managed to receive poor health condition statement, are here – little Nadina willingly shares. – We walk to the fields from our homes. We work 8am-5pm. Sometimes we go home early.
She also informed that there is no certain plan for kids. On average every students gathers about 20 kilos per day and this is not too overwhelming. Generally, all students, interviewed by us, view it as given to work here. "Why not? Everybody is doing that", they say.
12 year old Sardor is a volunteer worker: he prefers to work while his classmates continue school.
- I am a house mistress – his mom says. – I work here voluntarily. All people do that. My son helps me out. He and I gather about 70 kilo. This is not big money, but it is definitely better than nothing.
The governmental reserves are waiting for crop, gathered by child labor
- No one forces us to work here; we do it on voluntary bases. – 14 year old Ikrom says. – I do not know how long we are going to work here. We bring our lunch from home.
- What can we do about it? - the young teacher says. – I heard about international sanctions against Uzbek cotton. What is the point? Somebody has to work. Please do not mention my name and school number ok?
Overall, there were about 30-40 people, including adults, at the field. But this was early morning. On the way back to Tashkent all the cotton fields were flooded by young cotton growers. There was no point to stop by: it is clear the stories, shared by children and teachers, would be the same.
Children at the fields of Uzbekistan
According to Ferghana.Ru correspondents, the administration of the Shafirkan rayon, the north of Bukhara Oblast, also started attracting kids to cotton harvesting. On September 21 the local high school students (the graduates of 9th grades) were sent to rural area with overnight stay. Other high school students (5-8 grades) also gather raw cotton under the supervision of teachers. The price, paid for one kilo of cotton in the Bukhara Oblast, is 83 sums.
The school classes for 7, 8 and 9 graders are temporarily ceased due to cotton harvesting at nearly 600 schools out of 840 in the Surkhandarya Oblast of Uzbekistan. On the other hand, the Ferghana Oblast administration decided not to use child labor this year.
All news and expert opinions on The Cotton in Uzbekistan is available in special section of Ferghana.Ru.