02/27/2024, 10.45
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Child labour exploitation in the cotton harvest in Turkmenistan

by Vladimir Rozanskij

A new Ilo report puts the spotlight back on the plight of boys and girls under the age of 15 who are forced to work in the fields in freezing temperatures in the winter and extremely hot in the summer, exposed to the risks associated with the massive use of chemicals. Practices in force since the days of Soviet planned eocnomy.

Ashgabat (AsiaNews) - The Committee for the Application of Standards of the UN International Labor Organization (ILO) has published an expert report on the exploitation of child labor in various countries around the world.

Commenting on the situation in Turkmenistan, we analyze the data presented by the Ashgabat government in August 2023 and the field checks carried out by ILO members in October 2023, observing the persistence of massive use of this forced labor during the cotton harvest and the failure of the government itself to make significant progress to address the problem, despite the Committee's recommendations sent in 2016 and 2021.

The report highlights that cotton pickers are forced to work in dangerous and unsanitary conditions, remaining in the fields at temperatures ranging from -10 degrees to +40, suffer the effects of harmful chemicals, and are not assisted either for protect themselves, nor to get the necessary medical support. You also have to pay for your own travel and food during working hours.

The involvement of minors and young people is not officially organized by the State, but is activated both through systems of coercion and out of necessity due to the poverty of families, and often also concerns boys and girls under 15 years of age.

The members of the ILO mission in 2023 detected direct or indirect calls for labor mobilization by officials of state offices in all regions observed, the velayats of Akhal, Lebap, Dashoguz and Mari, with the sole exception of the capital Ashgabat.

The Turkmen authorities were therefore officially and insistently asked to cease all forms of coercion at work, both in the private and public sectors, and not to bring students to pick cotton to the detriment of education itself.

It is necessary to overcome the planning system regarding cotton, a legacy of Soviet times, and reorganize the sector with the help of international organizations, something that Turkmenistan has always tried to avoid, so as not to suffer external interference. Public officials who use practices of this type must answer to the law for abuse of power and violence against minors.

The issue was also addressed at the UN session on 2 February, when Turkmenistan presented its periodic report on compliance with the rules of the Convention against discrimination against women.

In fact, even women, as experts observe, are often forced to participate in the annual cotton harvest. The Turkmen delegation to the United Nations promised to "make collaboration with the International Labor Organization more effective", taking into account the research, considered "of high quality", obtained through visits to the camps "conducted without any type of conditioning ” by representatives of the ILO.

Turkmenistan's national statistical bodies are processing data on labor force use, and all this will be made available by the end of February, when a new ILO mission will take place to agree on the next steps to take, to finally overcome this slavery legacy of the past.

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