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Tajik Schools Suspend Class For Cotton Harvest

(ITAR-TASS) September 6, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Less than a week into the new school year in Tajikistan, a number of schools and universities are suspending lessons to allow students to be sent to harvest cotton.

Schools in the southern Khatlon region have been ordered to send all students from the ninth grade on to cotton fields as of today. Other regions are expected to follow soon.

Many parents object to Tajikistan's tradition of requisitioning school-age children to pick cotton, which is rarely imposed so early in the year.

In some schools, students are sent to pick cotton every day -- after shortened schooldays. Others schools actually send their students to stay in temporary shelters in cotton fields.

University and college students interrupt their education during the harvest season, and most spend at least one month working intensively on farms.

Safarmoh Yatimova, who lives in Kurgon-teppa, a town in the Khatlon region, says she thinks parents are increasingly reluctant to see their underage children forced to work on farms instead of studying.

"It is difficult for kids to have to do such hard physical work," she tells RFE/RL's Tajik Service. "Besides, they miss out on their education. I know many children who got seriously ill after the cotton-picking campaign, and because of their illness they couldn't attend their lessons in the winter either."

Davlatkhoja Khairov, another Kurgon-teppa resident, says he doesn't want his university-student son dropping classes to pick cotton.

"Why should everyone -- all of Tajikistan -- rush to pick cotton?" he asks. "As if we don't have a life beyond cotton. Well, it is great that our farmers grow cotton. Let the farmers pick it!"

It is not just students who are obliged to take part in the cotton-picking campaign, which usually lasts until mid-November. School- teachers, and workers in state institutions will be joining the students on the cotton farms soon.

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