When it comes to
the use of child labor to help bring in
According to statistics released in late October, this year’s cotton harvest appears on track to hit its target, with roughly 247,000 tons already picked, according to a report distributed by the Asia-Plus news agency. State projections for 2009 call for the harvest to reach 350,000 tons. The 2009 target, however, represents a tacit acknowledgement by the government that the cotton sector is suffering from a severe case of financial sclerosis. The 2008 harvest was a total disaster -- with just 353,000 tons picked out of a targeted 552,000 tons.
In Tajikistan’s southern districts abutting the Afghan border, most of the laborers picking cotton these days are women; the rest are children, some as young as six. A large percentage of Tajik men are labor migrants, and have left the country in search of work
While the demographic profile of the domestic labor force certainly plays a role in the continuing use of child labor, the practice is also intertwined with an apparent breakdown in communications. "Child labor is used on a large scale," said Nargis Zokirova, Director of the Bureau on Human Rights and Rule of Law, an NGO. "In 2006 our president issued a decree prohibiting child labor in cotton fields. The Ministry of Education also issued a decree prohibiting taking children to the cotton fields. But, despite those decrees, children are still taken to the cotton fields. When we talked to teachers, they didn’t know about those decrees."
That children are harvesting cotton is widely accepted. Less clear is whether children are forced to pick at the expense of their studies. "Schools are not closed down during the picking season [. . . ] children are taken to the cotton fields after school," Takhmina Babadjanova of the NGO Amparo in Khujand told EurasiaNet. "Kids don’t skip school. After school they go home, have something to eat, change their clothes and then they go pick the cotton."
But, she added, local officials do use coercive methods on teachers and children. "The kids have problems getting their books if they don’t go pick cotton," Babadjanova said. "During exams and finals, they might have problems with their grades. Or there have been some cases, very rare, when the students [were] expelled from school for not going to pick cotton. All of this causes problems for parents, of course. They worry."
Zokirova, the human rights advocate, noted that a cycle of fear seems to swirl in schools during the harvest season. "Teachers told us that they were forced by the principal of a school to take the children to the cotton fields," she said. "When we talked to the kids, they said that they were forced to go to the cotton field by the teachers. They also said that if they wouldn’t go, teachers threatened to expel them from school."
A network of 13
local NGOs issued a report in late October that gauged
The few men who have not migrated abroad in search of work appear to be supervising. One, who called himself a brigadier, told EurasiaNet that the workers do not get paid regularly, adding that he and his team had not been paid in over six months. They are forced to steal some of the harvest, he said, simply to feed their families.
With the focus
on cotton, which accounts for 11 percent of
frequent comparisons to neighboring
"The issue here is not just about child labor, but about the exploitation of all laborers, including women," the diplomat concluded.
decline of the cotton sector has profound implications for education in
As far as pupils are concerned, the deepening economic crisis stands to hamper the ability of many to learn, Lapham said. "This might worsen as the economic crisis deepens -- with no remittances and poor harvests. Families will make sure that they can purchase enough food before they will be able to worry about school supplies," she said.