Tougher Penalties for Child Labour in Uzbekistan

Tougher Penalties for Child Labour in Uzbekistan

Thursday, 19 November, 2009
The Uzbek parliament has passed a law prescribing tougher penalties for using child labour, but experts doubt that it will really work as a deterrent since children have been seen working in the cotton fields this autumn despite official denials that this is happening.

On November 3, a law setting out penalties for employers and parents who endanger children’s health and safety by sending them out to work was passed by the lower house of parliament, and sent to the upper chamber for approval. It is not clear what the penalties will be, but they are expected to include large fines.

The new law is the result of a national action plan which the Uzbek government adopted in September last year following ratification of the Convention on the Worst Forms of Child Labour and the Convention concerning Minimum Age for Admission to Employment.

Uzbekistan began addressing child labour by ratifying these international agreements and changing domestic regulations after major United States and British clothing retailers imposed a boycott on cotton grown in the country because of concerns that children as young as eight were part of the farm labour force.

The authorities issued a ban on children under 15 working on cotton plantations, and local government set up special task forces to prevent this happening.

However, these measures have not halted the use of child labour, which observers believe continues to be tacitly encouraged.

“The authorities declare in public that they are eliminating the use of child labour, but then they quietly inform their subordinates that [cotton production] targets must be met by all the means available,” said Ahmadjon Normirzoev, an Uzbek human rights activist now based abroad who focuses on child labour in the east of the country.

Normirzoev notes that after ratifying the two international conventions, the authorities dispatched schoolchildren to help with last year’s autumn harvest.

Children were again seen in the fields when spring planting got under way. Classes were cancelled and the pupils sent out to the plantations.

From mid-September, independent media and human rights activists reported that children were back at work again, and schools were even being set their own production quotas. Uzbekistan: Child Labour Continues Despite Formal Ban.

According to Sayora, mother of a 15-year-old boy in the Chust district of Namangan province in the Fergana valley,
“My son, who is in ninth grade, had severe kidney pain but was made to go to the cotton field anyway. Otherwise, he would have problems at school, as the teachers would have given him low marks for no good reason.”

Commentators say that since double standards seem to be being applied, there can be little hope that the latest legislation will change anything.

“Even third-graders [aged about ten] in provincial schools are working in the cotton fields,” said Tashpulat Yoldashev, an Uzbek political analyst based abroad. “What guarantee is there that this new law is going to be effective?”

Oleg Sarapulov, a member of the Uzbek Human Rights Alliance in Tashkent who monitors children working in the cotton harvest, says the authorities regard this cheap form of labour as essential to producing cotton, a key revenue-earner for the state.

He argues that the legislation is merely window-dressing to demonstrate to the international community that Uzbekistan is honouring its obligations.

“This law has clearly been drafted to show other countries that democracy is developing and the human rights situation is improving,” says Sarapulov. “But I am certain that the law won’t work.”

(NBCentralAsia is an IWPR-funded project to create a multilingual news analysis and comment service for Central Asia, drawing on the expertise of a broad range of political observers across the region. The project ran from August 2006 to September 2007, covering all five regional states. With new funding, the service has resumed, covering Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.)

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