UZBEKISTAN: Want to go to college? Promise to pick cotton

[13 July 2013] - 

The College of Customer Service in the city of Angren forces parents of prospective students to sign a contract that requires their children to pick cotton and participate in community service. 

Signing such a contract is mandatory before the prospective student’s admissions papers are accepted by the college. 

If parents refuse, their children's papers will not be accepted. They are also told not to bother applying to other colleges in the city as they all have the same requirements. 

The photo shows the unsigned copy of the contract, which speaks for itself. 

You can clearly see the name of the college’s director – Israilov—who is the party the parents must contract with. 

On behalf of the college, the administration promises to control class attendance, provide security, teach professional skills, academic knowledge, etc. 

Then the contract lists requirements for students and their parents. 

The 15-16 year old students must adhere to a dress code – light top, dark bottoms – they must be punctual, the parents must attend parent-teacher meetings, but the most interesting part is: 

“Mandatory participation of the students in cotton harvesting, as well as community service days organized by the college”.

It’s worth noting that paragraph Number 3 “Memo” of the contract states that “for both parties this [contract] is a legally binding document”.

Unlawful contract 

The paragraph about “mandatory participation in the cotton harvest and community service” is a clear breach of international human rights law and United Nations Conventions. 

Uzbekistan ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention Against Forced Labor and the Convention Against Child Labor. 

These documents are the founding documents for the International Labor Organization, which calls for the elimination of the practice of forced child labor around the world. 

The legal norms of these conventions automatically become law in countries that have ratified them. 

In addition, the administrative code of the Republic of Uzbekistan contains an article that specifies penalties for using child labor in unfavorable conditions which may be threatening to the health, security or morals of the child. 

On 8 May 2013 the Uzbek Embassy in Kyrgyzstan issued a press-release “About Uzbekistan’s measures to stop child and forced labor”. 

It stated that within Uzbekistan “there is a legal framework that does not allow organizations and private parties to force children to work, and oversees their compliance with the law governing conditions of underage workers”. 

Which means that colleges in Angren are breaking both international and Uzbek law. 

There is nothing in Uzbek law that requires children to pick cotton, nor do any other type of farm work. 

You can stand up for your rights 

Starting in 2008 in Uzbekistan there is a legal route for exempting children from participating in farm work. Such exemptions have taken place, but unfortunately they are not the norm. 

The opportunity lies in the UN Conventions mentioned above and the National Plan of Action aimed at implementing the UN Conventions from 2008 and the Additional Plan of Action from 2012-2013. 

Experience has shown that if you petition the prosecutor’s office with all these documents in hand, and demonstrate that you are forced to pick cotton, the argument will be resolved in your favor. 

But as a rule nobody punishes the offenders. 

You can also take the documents listed above directly to the college director or to the city khokim (governor), where the argument will often be decided in the petitioner’s favor. 

There are not that many people in Uzbekistan who know of the UN Conventions and National Plans of Action. However, there are even fewer people who have the courage to stand up for their legal rights. 

As one of the parents, who asked to remain anonymous, said: “Even having in your hands articles of international and national law, and understanding their legal standing, many don’t believe in their power. And that’s not just the government’s fault. That’s our own problem”.





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