Starting on September 5, students from the ages of 14-17 at schools in the Surkhandarya region have been sent to the fields to pick cotton, the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights reported on September 8.
Since the Soviet era inn Uzbekistan, middle school consists of grades 1-9. Children start school at the age of 7, although parents often take them earlier, at age 6.
High schools do not have grades 10 through 12. Instead, after 9th grade, students go to trade schools or academies, where they study for three years, that is, from age 14 or 15 through age 17. After that, they may go on to university.
Thus, the children being taken out of schools called “colleges” in Uzbekistan today are from the ages of 14-17, and are the equivalent of high-schoolers.
These students aged 14-17 are sent first to the fields, and usually live on the farms while they pick cotton. Then younger children are usually brought two weeks later to continue the harvesting of cotton.
According to Ulugbek, a first-year student of a teacher’s college who was born in 1995 who gave only his first name, on September 5, students were sent to the remote Muzrabad district to pick cotton. They are being housed in a daycare center there. There are 32 students in Ulugbek’s group, mainly girls. Each grade has 5 or 6 such groups; there are about 600 students total in the college.
According to Ulugbek, administrators from the college, along with local policemen, went to all the homes of students who had not been at school since September 1, and ordered them to go to the cotton harvest.
Ulugbek was surprised that neither teachers or police had shown interest in the students absent at the beginning of the school year. But as soon as the cotton season opened, authorities began to search for them.
Asked by a correspondent why the students were sent to a district so far from their homes, although there are also cotton fields in their own district, Denau,, Ulugbek replied:
Murzraba is a remote area in the steppes. It is very hard to run away from there. If they were being brought from home to a field close by, every day the teachers would have to go around to their homes, rounding up the students. But if they are taken off to the steppes, they will be under observation.
According to Ulugbek’s younger brother, Rasul, age 13, school children in the village will be taken to the cotton fields:
Mama said that the first harvest has already ended in our district. The second harvest is starting. Usually children are taken from school to the fields for the third harvest, when all the highest quality cotton is already picked. Adults earn money for the highest sort of cotton. When there is less cotton remaining, and it is harder to pick, then the school-children are sent.
Rasul is a 7th-grader who attends School No. 30 in Denau District in Surkhandarya province.
He and others who spoke to our correspondent had no doubt that school-children would be sent to pick cotton.
According to a report from Jizzak district, college students were to be sent to the fields on September 10.