Washington Times: Uzbek government breaks promise to end child labor in cotton fields

TASHKENT, Uzbekistan — Uzbekistan’s prime minister pledged last month to end child labor in the country’s cotton fields. But as the harvest season gets under way, human rights activists say children as young as 13 are being put to work under grueling conditions, despite extreme measures to recruit adult labor.

“Every year, from the beginning of the first days of September, the entire country is immersed in a cotton hysteria,” said Hakim, a human rights activist based in Tashkent, who asked his last name not be used for fear of persecution. “Urban residents are in a panic looking for a way to escape slavery and not be sent to work.”

“Rural residents have long been resigned to it, and cotton is seen as an integral part of their lives,” he added.

Across the country, state-run institutions from banks to hospitals have closed or are working with skeleton staffs. Posters hang on locked doors, and shuttered windows bear the words “Hamma pahtada,” which translates to “Everybody’s gone cotton-picking.”

Uzbekistan is the world’s third-largest exporter of raw cotton, behind the United States and Africa, and generates about $1 billion in annual revenue in exporting the material.

Prime Minister Shankar Mirziyayev has failed to keep his promise to end child labor in the cotton fields, according to human rights observers who monitored working conditions in the countryside.

The Human Rights Alliance of Uzbekistan has reported seeing children as young as 13, as well as college students, at work in the cotton-growing regions of Jizzakh and Kashkadarya.
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September 24, 2011