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No. 24 (44) December 2006
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Elena Dorokhova,
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"Cotton" children
Students of secondary schools in Tajikistan are illegally involved in picking cotton
Rahmon Boltaev (Dushanbe)
In early September, the office of the Republican Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law of Tajikistan received information that in the south of the republic in the Shaartuz and Beshkent districts of the Khatlon region, by order of local authorities, students of grades 6-11 are attracted to picking cotton during school hours. And this is happening despite the fact that on September 12, at a government working meeting, the President of Tajikistan, Emomali Rakhmonov, ordered that general education students and students of higher educational institutions not be involved in picking cotton.

As the Oasis correspondent was told in the office of the Bureau, in order to investigate the situation and establish this fact, the staff of this organization went to these areas and visited a total of five district schools. “In all these schools, since the beginning of the school year, classes and all students in grades 6-11 have been canceled, and in some cases, students in grades 5 have been involved in picking cotton in the cotton fields. The basis for attracting schoolchildren to picking cotton was the oral indication of representatives of the local Khukumat. Although, according to Tillo Turakulova, chairman of the Komsomol jamoat of the Nosir-Khusravsky district, there was no order to involve secondary school students in picking cotton. He added that they do not have information on this issue and in cases of identifying facts of student involvement in cotton picking, the perpetrators will be punished, ”says researcher Bureau Dilnoza Khudobakhsheva.

Researcher Khudonazar Mamadnazarov also said that in these schools every morning there are lines, where lists of students are compiled. Then the students are distributed to the labor teams. Schoolchildren get to the cotton picker on foot, or on a dedicated transport (usually carts for transporting cotton). At the end of each working day, school directors compile lists of the amount of the harvest and provide the list to the local Hukumat.

“According to representatives of the local population, for every kilogram of cotton harvested, you can get from 8 to 12 diram (2-3 cents) depending on the variety. Children work in the cotton fields from 8 am to 6 pm. At the same time, they are not provided with food and drinking water in all cotton fields, ”he said.

According to the adviser to the Minister of Education of the Republic of Tajikistan Zamon Alifbekov, despite the fact that Article 26 of the Law on Education prohibits the involvement of students in any agricultural work, this “Soviet” practice is still widely distributed in many regions of the country. “The ministry received a similar signal from the Rudaki district, where it turned out that schoolchildren in this district were also illegally involved in picking cotton, but after the classes. Currently, this problem is dealt with by a specially created commission under the ministry, ”said Alifbekov. He also added that from the new school year, according to the decision of the Ministry of Education of Tajikistan, it is forbidden to involve schoolchildren and students in the harvest of raw cotton. The Minister of Education of Tajikistan has sent a special letter to all departments of national education and the Khukumats of the republic, which strictly states not to involve pupils and students in cotton picking. From now on, the use of child labor during the cotton-picking campaign will be punished according to the law, up to and including the removal from office of one or another head of the educational institution.

Meanwhile, the country's Minister of Education Abdujabbor Rakhmonov told reporters of the Asia Plus news agency on September 20 that students and schoolchildren employed in the cotton harvest these days are taking part in this process on their own initiative.

“Many people say that we are going to pick cotton on our own initiative,” said one of the 4th year students at the University. Nosiri Khusrav of the city of Kurgan-Tyube I.A. Asia Plus. However, it is already the third year that I have been going to pick cotton, and there are no conditions for work, accommodation or food. All this cannot show our desire to go there on our own initiative. ”

According to Hudonazar Mamadnazarov, an employee of the Republican Bureau of Human Rights, the use of child labor is prohibited in many countries of the world where there are special laws regulating this area that protect the child’s right to education. Tajikistan also has legal provisions prohibiting the use of child labor. This is the Law “On Education”, the Labor Code of Tajikistan, in which there is a chapter “Guarantees for young people”, which says that children are allowed to work from the age of 15, and to work that is not harmful to health. Or Article 178, which states that persons under 18 can work only 35 hours a week, and from 14-15 only 24 hours a week. But, despite the norms of the law, the involvement of children in the collection of raw cotton is widespread. The report of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) “Children in cotton fields” states that up to 40% of the cotton crop in Tajikistan is collected by children who receive meager wages for their work. Experts note that the forms and conditions for attracting children to pick cotton in Tajikistan do not meet the interests of students, parents, and schools.

"Tajik legislation prohibits child labor, but children collect up to 40% of the cotton crop for a meager wage, to the detriment of their health and the quality of education," said Frederick Schöne, the acting head of the IOM mission in Tajikistan. According to him, when interviewing parents and schoolchildren, it turned out that because of the collection of “white gold,” children miss up to 380 class hours a year (one third of the curriculum). For a few months of cotton, they earn an average of less than $ 20. About 70% of parents surveyed say that picking cotton has a negative effect on the health of their children.

In Tajikistan, female labor is widely used in cotton picking. According to analysts of the United Nations Development Program on cotton plantations in Tajikistan, the percentage of women and girls involved in cotton picking is high, since the majority of men in search of work migrated to neighboring countries.

“I have four children, three of whom are girls between the ages of 10 and 16,” said Khalima Dzhumakhonova, a resident of the Shaartuz district (her name has been changed), and they are all involved in picking cotton during school hours. Not only are they forced to pick cotton by threats, up to dismissal from school, they also receive a pittance for their slave labor, for which they cannot buy bread. What will they learn in the fields, skipping classes, lagging behind the curriculum? Nothing good My children are undermining their health. "

According to the IOM report, child labor is becoming an easy solution to the problem of labor shortages in the cotton industry of Tajikistan. Each season, about 630 thousand people of working age travel outside Tajikistan to work in Russia and other CIS countries. It turns out that, apart from school-age children and women, there is simply no one to pick cotton in the country.
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