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Children Harvest Cotton in Uzbekistan

Uzbek boy

Child labor around the globe deprives children of the opportunity to receive an education. Nowhere is this more evident than in Uzbekistan, where the government actually uses the educational system to force children into the cotton industry during the harvesting season.

Human rights organizations, labor unions and businesses around the world have refused to stand silently by. The AFT is involved in a campaign to end forced child labor in Uzbekistan that utilizes economic and diplomatic pressure, as well as international organizations such as the United Nations and the International Labor Organization.  As the 2012 harvest began this fall, AFT joined in a statement with other civil society groups calling for: the government of Uzbekistan to accept an ILO mission to monitor and address forced child labor; other governments around the world to make diplomatic efforts that pressure Uzbekistan on its use of forced child labor; and businesses to eliminate Uzbek cotton from their supply chains.

Uzbekistan has signed on to International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions that pledge to eradicate the worst forms of child labor, including agricultural work, within its borders. Yet every year, Uzbek state officials order an estimated 2.4 million children (who may be as young as 10 years old) to leave school for two months to harvest cotton. About two-thirds of the schools in the country are forced to participate in this system. Resistance is not tolerated by the government, which has threatened to withhold welfare benefits and utility services of parents who protest their children’s situation.

Protest outside of Uzbek embassy

Watch video of AFT protest outside the Uzbek embassy.

The children are led to the fields by their teachers every day (including weekends), where both students and educators are required to pick cotton for 10 hours without compensation. The work is dangerous, especially due to the lack of safety precautions and supervision, and sometimes results in injuries and deaths among the child laborers. School administrators use both public shaming and physical abuse to force the children to meet their daily quotas, which may be as much as 130 pounds (60 kilograms) of cotton. In one reported case, these techniques led to a child’s suicide. These conditions have been documented by the ILO as well as by several independent nongovernmental organizations. The children are not even afforded decent living conditions; sanitation, health and nutrition concerns are largely ignored.