Thursday, August 25, 2016


Kids Hard At Work In Uzbekistan's Cotton Fields

Kids At Work In Uzbekistan's Cotton Fieldsi
|| 0:00:00
December 01, 2011
In videos shot secretly by human rights activists and provided to RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service, young children are seen doing hard labor in Uzbekistan's cotton fields.
For years, Uzbek authorities have denied widespread reports that children are sent to the fields to pick cotton every harvest season.

Now viewers can see for themselves, thanks to video footage collected by human rights activists and sent to RFE/RL's Uzbek Service. There is no denying that the school-age children in the video are picking cotton and carrying heavy sacks on their shoulders. Determining whether they were taken away from their studies or forced to work in the fields proves more difficult.

The human rights activists who provided the video, whose identities are being withheld for their protection, said one of the children identified himself as 10-year-old Otabek. Others look even younger.

Human-rights defenders and the region's independent media, including the news website, have reported that the children, as well as teenagers and college students, were all forced by the state to help harvest the country's most valuable agricultural product.

Schools and colleges have been shut down in most parts of the country since mid-September, when the harvest season begins.

The footage was shot in Uzbekistan's major cotton-producing regions, including the Ferghana Valley, Karakalpakistan Autonomous Republic, and the Khorezm and Qashqadaryo provinces.

One of the world's major cotton producers, Uzbekistan has long been criticized for using what rights activist say is child labor during the two-month harvest season.

The widespread criticism has led some 60 clothing companies, including Gap, H&M, and Marks & Spencer to boycott Uzbek cotton until the country ends its practice of using children as cheap labor.

In September, the organizers of a New York fashion show canceled a runway presentation by Gulnora Karimova, the daughter of President Islam Karimov, amid protests by activists who claim her collection was made with Uzbek cotton harvested by children.

This week is the tail end of this year's cotton harvest, and children are heading back to school to resume their studies.

-- Shukhrat Bobojonov and Farangis Najibullah

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: vilte
December 02, 2011 13:17
But do these children get paid? Why is the government forcing them to work? if cotton is the one/main source of income, it is clear that they do not want to lose that only income. Perhaps helping the government to plan the cotton planting as well as helping to get out of single crop agriculture would help to take the kids out of the fields back to school. I am not saying it is right that young children have to do such a hard job, but banning does not solve the main problem!
In Response

by: Farux from: New York, US
December 23, 2011 02:40
I understand your comment. I myself had to pick cotton from the first day of school year September 2 till late-December. October, November, and December were the coldest and rainiest months. The field was almost empty, but we were still forced to go and "get" cotton to meet the quota, which we did by stealing, buying, and submerging the little bit of cotton that was available into water to weight it down. The story behind this arrangement is as follows:

The cotton industry is controlled by the government (group of corrupt officials, including the president). Hence, a farmer who wants to plant wheat or anything else is forced to plant cotton. A farmer is also forced to sell the cotton only to the government, then the government channels all the cotton into one export, profits of which are divided among officials.

No business wants to be in this industry, as the sale of cotton to anyone outside the government is suicidal.

Students along with teachers, doctors, police, and other government workers have no choice but to pick cotton; it is the only source of food. The government can get away by paying extremely low salaries. My parent, who did not work for the government were able to sneak out of the country and pick cotton in neighboring Kyrgyzstan, where salaries were better (private company managed cotton production in that part of Kyrgyzstan).

Cotton production can be made profitable, attractive and even fair to kids, but as long as corrupt and soulless officials continue to siphon the industry such arrangement would not be possible.

by: Anthony from: Lviv, Ukraine
December 17, 2011 13:28
The biggest 'surprise' here is that it took these human rights workers so long to get confirmation and footage. The average Uzbek person will openly tell you that children in the west of the country take a month off school each year to work the cotton fields. They're actually quite jolly about it. So it seems to me that the people who shot this video are presenting a universally acknowledged fact as a 'government secret'. It isn't one.

Of course, that's not to say that it's RIGHT to have kids picking cotton. (though the Uzbeks I've spoken to about it seem to regard it as little more than the Central Asian equivalent of a paper run). However, to focus on this one phenomenon is to ignore the much broader problem behind it: namely, extreme poverty and desperately low wage levels, brought on by poor economic management. This whole child labour thing, while a worthy issue in itself, is in fact just one more example of how poorly the natural resources of Uzbekistan are managed. I'm neither an economist nor an expert on developing countries, but it seems to me that addressing this root problem stands much more chance of ending child labour than treating the child labour thing in isolation.

About This Blog

"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

Journalists In Trouble

RFE/RL journalists take risks, face threats, and make sacrifices every day in an effort to gather the news. Our "Journalists In Trouble" page recognizes their courage and conviction, and documents the high price that many have paid simply for doing their jobs. More