Cottonfields back home

Published: Sunday 15 January 2006

The Uzbekistan government has again come under criticism for continuing the practice of using child labour and government employees to harvest cotton.

Uzbekistan is the world's fifth-largest cotton producer and the second largest cotton exporter. But instead of using machines to harvest its cotton, it uses manual labour. All government offices, secondary and higher education institutions in Andijan province have no choice but to send their people for cotton picking. Abdikadir Niyazov, a district administration official, said that all people were picking cotton voluntarily. "I do not deny that the school children gather cotton, but nobody is forcing them to work. They do it because of patriotism." Many wanted to protest, but kept mum fearing dismissal. "Whoever refuses is imprisoned or persecuted," a local activist said.

Even government workers are not exempt from this forced labour -- they have to put in a minimum of 10 days per season.

However, those who do not want to toil in the fields can pay around US $1 per day to escape the backbreaking work. "We collect money in order not to go to the cotton fields," a teacher said. But a senior official from the provincial department of education, flatly denied this.

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