Recognized as one of the most egregious examples of child labor in the world, students in Uzbekistan have been systematically forced by their government to leave school for months at a time to pick the cotton harvest. Today, AFT Secretary-Treasurer Antonia Cortese spoke at a demonstration in front of the Embassy of the Republic of Uzbekistan in Washington, D.C., to condemn this practice and called on the Uzbek government to heed international pressure to end it.WASHINGTON—For more than 2 million Uzbek students, going “back to school” also means going “back to the fields,” as they and their teachers are forced to leave school to perform long, hard and dangerous work in the country’s cotton fields. While the government and bosses reap the profits, the children lose valuable learning time while toiling in the fields for little more than meager meals. This state-sanctioned practice must be denounced. All children belong in the classroom, and teachers must be free to practice their craft.
The AFT is united with a coalition of governments, businesses and organizations calling on the Uzbek government to abide by the International Labor Organization Convention No. 182, which the Uzbek government ratified, and end its reliance on child labor in its cotton production. By putting its children’s long-term educational needs, and their futures, ahead of short-term profits, the Uzbek government can break the cycle of poverty in Uzbekistan, allow its students the chance to reach their full potential, and create a better economic future for its country.