Not long after teachers were forced to go to the cotton fields in Uzbekistan to help bring in the harvest, their pupils from middle schools followed them.
The BBC Uzbek Service has received reports that children in the 6th grade who are 12 years of age have been forced to work in large numbers in the harvest.
As we know from Uzbek monitors, children as young as 10 have been reported in the fields in past harvest, and the tendency has been to bring younger children out as the harvest progresses; adults and university students are sent for the more lucrative and larger-yield work at the beginning of the harvest.
Parents of students and education workers themselves have been pressured by local officials who have demanded that the children be taken out to the fields.
A housewife from Yangiyul whose husband was sentenced to prison for his religious beliefs told the BBC that due to the lack of a bread-winner in the house, she was forced to pay to have her son, who is a college student , remain at home.
The woman who requested anonymity said she paid 70,000 soums (about $30) to hire a person who would pick cotton in her son’s place. But the college official reneged on the agreement, saying that he would keep the $30 for the cost of her son’s food, and make her son go to the cotton harvest nonetheless. The woman said since she had brought her son home at the start of the harvest, there shouldn’t have been any amount owed for his food.
Another resident of Yanguil, Komila Halimova, and her daughter, a 9th grader named Furkat, began working on September 14 in the fields and had been working for five days at the time of the interview for BBC. They get to the fields on foot at 8:00 in the morning and return home at sundown. Furkat suffered from a skin infection and was supposed to avoid exposure to the sun and dust, but all her mother’s efforts to get her exempted from the cotton harvest were in vain. Doctor’s excuses either don’t help, or were good for only two or three days, after which the teachers come to the house and demanded that the students come to the fields.