The US State Department Country Reports on Human Rights Practices was released April 8, and Uzbekistan is singled out among the world's worst violators of human rights.
Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights Michael Posner outlined three major global trends -- increased government restrictions on non-governmental groups, attempts to block the Internet, and attacks on religious and other minorities -- all factors in Uzbekistan.
In the chapter on Uzbekistan, the State Department discusses "government-compelled forced labor in cotton harvesting," and describes the plight of young children forced to miss school and work in the fields, and all the factors that make it so difficult to address this issue within the country -- harassment and jailing of human rights activists and independent journalists, arbitrary arrest and detention; denial of due process and fair trial; restrictions on freedom of speech, press, assembly, and association; and governmental control of civil society activity. In the section on forced labor, the State Department writes:
The constitution and law prohibit forced or compulsory labor, including by children, except as legal punishment for such offenses as robbery, fraud, or tax evasion, or as specified by law. However, such practices occurred during the cotton harvest, when authorities compelled schoolchildren, university students, teachers, medical workers, government personnel, military personnel, and nonworking segments of the population to pick cotton. Credible reporting indicated the use of forced adult labor during the cotton harvest was higher than in the previous year. Local officials, under central authority, reportedly compelled the adults under threats of adverse employment actions or denial of social benefit payments. Authorities expected teachers and school administrators to participate in the harvest either as supervisors or by picking cotton themselves; schoolteachers often bore responsibility for ensuring their students met quotas. Students and adults who did not make their quotas were sometimes subject to ridicule or abuse by local administrators or police. The loss of public sector workers during the cotton harvest adversely affected communities, as medical procedures often were deferred, essential public services delayed, and internationally funded development projects put on hold while implementing partners worked the fields.
And additionally on child labor, the State Department says:
Laws to protect children from exploitation in the workplace provide both criminal and administrative sanctions against violators of the child labor laws; however, these laws were not effectively enforced. Children worked in family businesses in cities during school holidays and vacations, and some children worked as street vendors, often helping their parents. Children also worked in the planting and picking of cotton. Many thousands of schoolchildren and university students worked in the cotton fields during the annual harvest as a result of government mobilization. The national labor code establishes the minimum working age at 16 years old and provides that work must not interfere with the studies of those younger than 18 years old. The law establishes a right to a part-time job beginning at age 15, and children with permission from their parents may work a maximum of 24 hours per week when school is not in session and 12 hours per week when school is in session. Amendments in 2009 abolished a provision that allowed 14-year-olds to be involved with "light work" that did not interfere with education or hinder the health or development of the child. Children between the ages of 16 and 18 years old may work 36 hours per week while school is not in session and 18 hours per week while school is in session.
The use of forced child labor in the cotton sector was widespread. During the fall harvest, local administrators throughout the country closed schools and universities for up to eight weeks and transported students to work in the cotton fields. Although the majority of students appeared to be over the age of 12 years old, 11-year-olds were not uncommon, and there were isolated reports of some students as young as 10-years-old having to work in the fields. Observers reported that older students often worked 10-hour days and frequently were housed in tents or barracks away from their families. For the second year in a row, the majority of classes remained in operation at the younger grade levels.
A section worth noting in particular describes the wages for children, often described as $4-5/per day, and makes an important point about the lower wages for younger children -- only $3.30 per day.
Students and adults made between 100 and 120 soum ($.06) per kilo (2.2 pounds) of cotton picked. Younger students were expected to pick 20 to 45 kilograms of cotton per day, while older students and adults were expected to pick 50 to 60 kilos per day. The resulting daily wage was between 2,000 and 5,400 soum ($1.30 to $3.60) for younger students and 5,000 to 7,200 soum ($3.30 and $4.80) per day for older students. Many universities reportedly threatened to expel students who did not participate in the harvest, and at least one university expelled a student for refusing to participate.
Working conditions varied greatly by region. There were some reports of inadequate food and lodging for the children; there were also reports of students without access to clean drinking water.
The State Department covers the government of Uzbekistan's refusal to permit international monitors in the country to monitor the cotton harvest:
The government's 2008 National Action Plan called for an end to the worst forms of child labor, including forced labor; however, most of its goals have not been reached. The government does not allow independent organizations to assess comprehensively child labor in the cotton sector, nor does it provide figures on the use of child labor in the country.