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Uzbek Clerics, Doctors 'Ordered To Pick Cotton'

Several human rights groups have claimed that Uzbek authorities use child labor in cotton fields.
Authorities in Uzbekistan are reportedly ordering clerics, school teachers, police officers, and others to pick cotton, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reports.

Uzbekistan has been criticized for years for forcing children to pick cotton, one of Uzbekistan's biggest exports.

Around a dozen people from cotton-producing regions including imams and other employees of mosques, teachers, and doctors have told RFE/RL they have been ordered by the Department of Muslims of Uzbekistan, a body officially registered by the state, to go out to the cotton fields and join in gathering this year's harvest.

The individuals spoke on condition of anonymity.

The 171 mosques of the Jizzakh Province have reportedly been gathering 20 tons of cotton everyday for the last two weeks.

Imams have allegedly been going door-to-door in some regions encouraging young people to go join the harvest campaign and offering prizes to those who pick the most cotton.

Not all imams have been involved in the actual harvest.

"We are reading the Koran to people picking cotton," an imam from the Navoi region told RFE/RL.

Similarly, some doctors in Tashkent province called out to pick cotton are also treating people in the fields for minor injuries and ailments.

Despite pledges from Uzbekistan's government to stop the use of child labor in cotton fields, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service is still receiving reports that the practice continues.

The practice was cited in an appeal last week by 20 human rights groups calling on the United States to keep aid restrictions currently in place against Uzbekistan.