On the eve of a review by the International Labour Organization concerning Uzbekistan's failure to stop forced child labor, the Uzbek government has made a last-ditch effort to claim it was controlling the problem, fergananews.com reported.
On June 2, the Council of Federations of Unions of Uzbekistan and the Association of Farms, both state-controlled organizations, and the Uzbek Ministry of Labor and Social Protection issued a joint statement on the site of Jahon, the Foreign Ministry's information agency.
The statement cited various laws on child protection and made the claim that "large-scale socio-economic reforms in the country" since independence have removed the social rationale for the use of forced child labor -- the implication is that privatization of farms since the end of the Soviet collective farm era has eliminated the need to put children to work.
Instead, say the state-controlled organizations, allegations of child exploitation in Uzbekistan are the fault of "certain biased foreign companies, organizations and media" who are all putting out "false insinuations and fabrications" about child labour because they want to "ruin Uzbekistan's high rating for its agricultural production, above all cotton, in the external market."
In a reprise of the old Soviet "hostile encirclement" argument that explains away criticism by foreign "wreckers and saboteurs," the state-controlled bodies said that critics of child labor weren't really concerned about children's rights, but merely intent on "slowing down Uzbekistan's economic growth and successful social reforms."
The statement claimed that only children 15 years and old were recruited for work in the cotton fields, and only outside of school hours.
In an admonition we hope some parents, teachers and children might be able to wave in the faces of local administrators who have been known to threaten them, the statement said:
(6) Any form of coercion of children to labor on the part of any person, including threat of application of sanctions with regarding to the children themselves of their parents is not allowed and is punishable under the law of the Republic of Uzbekistan.
The statement also said there would be public oversight of the use of forced labor by the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection, and that special joint working groups had been set up by the Association of Farms and the Council of Federations of Trade Unions to monitor the situation.
While formally, these Uzbek bodies are supporting the calls of international trade unions and human rights groups, they are making false claims about the ostensible removal of the motivation for exploitation of child labor, and their statement has to be seen in that light, says fergananews.com. Independent experts who monitor the cotton harvest have found that each year, school-age children are forced to work along with state employees and other citizens.