As the pressure mounts to harvest more cotton given high prices on the global market and droughts in Uzbekistan, since September 10, school-age children have already been mobilized to work in the cotton fields.
According to a report from monitors in the Khorezm province, students from the 8th and 9th grades (13-14 years of age) of all the district schools of the province have been sent to pick cotton. The children must assemble at their school yards and are taken to the nearest cotton fields under the supervision of their teachers.
An 8th grader who did not give his name told a correspondent that his teachers told the students to come to class without their textbooks, and to bring food and water with them. The distance from the school to the field was about 5-6 kilometers. In most cases, the children are hiking to the fields on foot, but some schools have organized mini-buses.
Over the weekend of September 10-11, children worked 8-9 hours each day with just a short break for lunch. On September 10, the children were paid 100 soums per one kilogram of cotton, and on the next day, they were paid 12 soums, which is approximately 4-5 cents per kilo.
Several days previously, trade schools and academies for older teen-agers were closed, and the students were sent to live and work in fields at more remote locations.
So far we can see that in the 2011 cotton harvest, just as in 2010, school-age children are being removed from classes and taken to pick cotton, and the low rate of pay for the children remains the same -- the equivalent of just 4-5 cents per kilo.
Uzbekistan has signed the International Labour Organisation (ILO) convention that establishes a minimum age for children to work at age 15, with 14 allowed in some exceptional circumstances. But their labour should not be forced, nor should the age be as low as 13. No work must be permitted at the expense of their schooling.