The mobilization of students to the cotton fields has begun in Uzbekistan, the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights reports.
According to reports from Uzbek monitors from the provinces of Kashkadarya, Surkhandarya, Khorezm, and Samarkand, on September 6, students from the trade schools and academies were sent to the fields to pick cotton.
The average age of these students is between 14 and 16.
The mobilization was organized by local khokimiyats or mayors' offices in the provinces. On September 6, the entrances to the colleges were closed, and instead buses were waiting to take the students to the farms. The motorcade of buses carrying students and their baggage was accompanied by traffic police.
The students are expected to live and work in the cotton fields for the next two months.
In Kashkadarya alone, students from all the colleges and academies were sent from 6 districts: Shakhrisabz, Kitob, Yakkabog, Mirishkor, Nishon and Kasbi). The Uzbek-German Forum is still in the process of finding out the scale of the mobilization of students in other provinces.
So far, there have not been any reports of elementary school children being taken to the fields.
Yet this report of students aged 14-16, with buses to the fields organized by the local governments, indicates that the practice of forced student labour with official involvement continues this year -- despite official claims to the contrary. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has established a Minimum Ages Convention whereby signatories are free to specify a minimum age for labour, with a minimum of 15 years. They may employ students of 14 years of age but only for a specified period of time and it is not supposed to be at the expense of their school time. Of course, the labour is also not supposed to be forced.
Uzbekistan signed and ratified the Minimum Age Convention in 2008. The ILO says a state member "whose economy and educational facilities are insufficiently developed may, after consultation with the organization of employers and workers concerned, where such exist, initially specify a minimum age of 14 years." Yet Uzbekistan has repeatedly boasted of its improved educational system and there are no reports of any consultations with employers.