|Children in cotton fields in 2004; photo: Thomas Grabka (c)|
Lyceum students face expulsion for not picking cotton
Students of the Angren academic lyceum are threatened with expulsion for refusing to take part in this year’s cotton harvesting.
On 29 October, the director of the Angren academic lyceum Muhammadjon Ishankulov and his deputy, Bahriniso Yulchiyeva, called parents of students who refused to take part in cotton harvesting this year.
Parents were offered two resolutions of the problem: to pay 300,000 sums (about $110) not to send their children to harvesting or to withdraw their documents from the lyceum by 1 November.
This story started before the start of the cotton campaign.
About two weeks before children were sent to cotton fields, rumours were rife that all colleges in the town would go to pick cotton while students of the academic lyceum would not be bothered because gifted children studied there.
A little later students were told that an order was received from on high that everyone should pay 70,000 sums (about $30). This contribution would allegedly be used to help cotton pickers and there will be no need to go to cotton harvesting.
“Because an average cotton pay-off amounts to 300,000-400,000 sums ($110-$140) in Angren’s colleges, against this background, 70,000 sums looked quite affordable,” said a parent who already paid the money.
This amount was even taken from those students who had health certificates of release from cotton.
On 8-10 September all colleges in Angren were sent to cotton harvesting while the academic lyceum was not deployed.
But some time later it became known that the lyceum would be taken to cotton harvesting on 14-15 September despite the 70,000 sums of pay-off money that had already been paid. Perplexed parents were promised their money back, but it has never been returned to them.
The heads of educational establishments insisted that parents should send their children to cotton harvesting, thus demonstrating patriotism.
Rates grow to 300,000
At the same time, those who did not want to send their children to cotton fields were offered an optional participation in the cotton campaign which they could do by paying another 300,000 sums.
Parents who refused to pay this amount and to send their children to cotton fields were threatened with expulsion from the lyceum.
The lyceum administration cited a document parents signed when submitting documents for their childrens' enrolment in the lyceum. One of this document's clauses points to “voluntary dispatch of the child to cotton harvesting”.
Without this written undertaking, the lyceum did not accept any other documents and parents were forced to sign it.
The parents of some of the students said that, trying to protect their children from lawlessness surrounding cotton harvesting, they showed the lyceum director a government resolution adopted in 2008 on measures to enact the conventions, ratified by the Republic of Uzbekistan, on the minimum working age and the convention to ban and eradicate the worst forms of child labour.
In response, director Ishankulov said these documents did not have any legal effect and did not mean anything to the lyceum administration.
At the same time, the lyceum director cited orders from the Tashkent Region governor and police and prosecutor’s office of the Angren town on the assignment of children to cotton harvesting.
During six weeks, lyceum teachers visited and telephoned parents demanding they should come to the lyceum to resolve issues related to cotton.
Money or expulsion
Another spate of extortions started when parents were called to the lyceum again on 29 October.
The director of lyceum demanded that parents bring birth certificates and passports of their children, but he did not explain why he needed them.
As a result of protracted “talks”, which did not yield desired results, parents were asked to take back their children’s enrolment documents from the college by 1 November.
Some parents feared their kids would face troubles after this conflict and decided to transfer them to other educational establishments.
Item 6 of the a joint declaration by the Trades Union Council, the Commercial Farmers’ Association and the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, published on the website of the Foreign Ministry’s Jahon news agency, says:
“Any attempts to force children to work, whether by threatening reprisals against the children themselves or their parents, will be dealt with in accordance with the laws of Uzbekistan.”