White Gold and Child Labor in Uzbekistan

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White Gold and Child Labor in Uzbekistan

Maria Churkina
2011

Child Labor in Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan is the second largest exporter of cotton in the world. Its sales account for about 800,000 tones every year. However, the cotton in Uzbekistan is not picked by machinery as it is in industrialized world, but is rather picked by hands, making this agricultural industry very labor intensive. The harvesting season starts in September. After the collapse of the USSR it became a common practice for children to pick cotton instead of machines. The schools are shut down for about two month every year, making children loose about a year of education in the field between grads 5 and 9. This cannot be called child work because it violates the human right and abolition of forced labor. Moreover, the conditions and the mechanism under which children are working fall very obviously in the category of child labor.

Cotton has the been the cash crop of Uzbekistan for years, and even today, the governments puts a primary emphasis on cotton production, thus making it the strategic crop. The revenues from the cotton production in 2009 reached $2.26 billion, with a make-up 12.2% of the total production in the country.

Sadly, there are still many examples of child labor in the world today. Children are engaged in different kinds of forced labor. However, cases in which state agents or the government have direct involvement in child labor are rare. Across the world there has been a lot of debate about what is considered child labor and what its distinction from child work is. As stated by the ISO Convention 182, “child work is something valued locally also by children themselves, while labor is exploitation that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity and is harmful to their physical and mental development” (Article 3, p 10).

Child labor in Uzbekistan may be considered a modern form of slavery because it forces children to do heavy work for miserable compensation and interferes with their schooling. As a result, their future opportunities and their physical as well as psychological development are being heavily impacted upon.

In order to understand why children participation exists in the cotton agricultural sector in Uzbekistan, it is important to understand the current situation and the specification of the cotton production in Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan is one of the poorest countries in the region. The president of Uzbekistan Ismail Karimov has been appointed by the USSR.

The cases in which government promote the use of child labor are rare. And those are very brutal cases, as for example in African countries in which children are recruited as soldiers. The situation in Uzbekistan is that children are ordered by the state to work on the cotton fields. The government is fully aware of this situation. It is the government that puts pressure on the school directors to provide human capital to the farmers. The government pressures the local authorities and the farmers to meet quotas for the cotton production. Uzbekistan also has one of the most brutal government regimes in the region.

The president of Uzbekistan is Islam Karimov, who was appointed as the president since the USSR. He got into power before the break-up of the USSR and maintains his position as the president until today. The International Authorities wildly criticized his rule for being undemocratic. One of the most brutal examples occurred in 2005, when a street protest in the city of Andijan against the current regime ended with hundreds of demonstrators being killed.

It is important to understand the economic situation in the country today and the role of the cotton industry. Uzbekistan has historically been one of the poorest and underdeveloped regions of the USSR. Today the situation has not improved but worsened. Nearly 80% of the population lives under the poverty line. Uzbekistan is the second largest...
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