Despite signing two international treaties and adopting domestic legislation prohibiting the use of child labor, Uzbekistan continued to rely on a "state-orchestrated mass mobilization of children to bring in the 2008 cotton harvest," a new report has found.
By the end of September, with the pace of cotton collection lagging way behind harvest projections, officials in some areas ordered students as young as first graders into the fields, according to the report prepared by the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) and issued November 11.
The report surveyed child labor issues in nine of Uzbekistan's 12 regions. Schools in many areas were closed in late September as children were drafted to help with the harvest. "In all the provinces surveyed, respondents conveyed the increased desperation and harshness in the 2008 forced labor campaign," the report stated. "The use of children aged seven to 11 is unusual, even by the standards of Soviet times."
Drought conditions this year have heightened the hardships endured by children in the fields, the report asserted. "Though children in several provinces were promised that their labors would end by November 1, local officials' desire to maximize the harvest totals at whatever cost is now reportedly keeping them in the fields until November 15."
Uzbekistan has signed two International Labor Organization (ILO) pacts, known as Convention 182 and Convention 138, which together seek to eliminate the use of child labor. A government decree, issued in September, likewise, declares an intent to eliminate the practice on Uzbek soil. However, the ILO says that only the Uzbek government-signed Convention 182 has been properly deposited, and that it will not take effect until July 2009, the report said.
"The government of Uzbekistan has claimed credit for ratification of the ILO conventions prohibiting child labor, but has taken no serious measures to engage or work with the ILO to develop an action plan, or even undertake a credible assessment of the problem," the ILRF report said.