05/26/2009, 00.00
UZBEKISTAN

Making cotton as homework for Uzbek children

Students in Fergana province have to make 200 paper funnels each in which to plant cotton seeds. Uzbek authorities allow child exploitation in the country’s largest export earning industry.
Tashkent (AsiaNews/Agencies) – In Fergana province Uzbek children have odd school homework to do. Teachers recently gave them the assignment of making at least 200 paper funnels each, add soil and plant cotton seeds inside.

This is the latest experiment in cotton farming introduced by the government in a country where cotton is the main export product.

In fact schools and universities are closed from September to December, when cotton is picked, and students sent to the fields.

Last year some major Western retail store chains like Marks & Spencer and Wal-Mart boycotted products containing Uzbek cotton to protest the use of child labour in Uzbek cotton plantations.

But with pressure on farmers mounting as a result of unfavourable weather during the planting season, rights activists say kids will be back at work in the fields this year.

Uzbek bans child labour, but the cotton industry, which is owned by the government, is labour intensive and minors are cheaper than adults who are paid on average US$ 6-7 a day.

Karim Bozorboev, a human-rights campaigner in Uzbekistan’s Sirdaryo Province, said that even though the authorities has reassured the international community that it is opposed to child labour, the reality is that has done precious little, except perhaps to encourage it.

“During the 2008 cotton-harvest season, we had information that the deputy of the provincial governor, who is in charge of agricultural issues, told people that if you don’t send your children to cotton fields, you will be declared enemies of the nation,” he said.

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