WELCOME TO IWPR'S REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA, No. 501, 13 July, 2007
TAJIK PROSECUTORS INVESTIGATE CHILD LABOUR CLAIMS In what could be a test
case, prosecutors have started looking into the widespread practice of using
minors to work on cotton farms. By Rajabi Zainiddin in Qurghonteppa
CONCERN AT PLANS TO EXPEL AFGHAN REFUGEES FROM TAJIK CAPITAL Recent arrivals
told they must leave Dushanbe and live wherever their residence papers were
issued. By Salimakhon Vahobzade and Ruhshona Alieva in Dushanbe
KAZAK EXAM SCAMMERS OUTWIT OFFICIALS Competition for subsidised places at
university fuels entrance exam corruption. By Anton Dosybiev in Almaty
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TAJIK PROSECUTORS INVESTIGATE CHILD LABOUR CLAIMS
In what could be a test case, prosecutors have started looking into the
widespread practice of using minors to work on cotton farms.
By Rajabi Zainiddin in Qurghonteppa
Prosecutors in southern Tajikistan are investigating allegations that school
children have been taken out of their classrooms and sent to the cotton fields
to work for little or no payment.
It is an open secret that children are used to gather cotton in Tajikistan and
other Central Asian states, despite government directives ordering the practice
to end. Producers are under pressure to fulfil government-set quotas for the
commodity, which is a key export earner for Tajikistan, the poorest of the
Central Asian republics.
Mirzo Fathulloev, head of the department for laws relating to minors at the
Khatlon regional prosecutors office, told IWPR that police had found evidence
that local authorities instructed schools to send children from the sixth to
the 11th grades to work in the fields at the end of May.
The prosecutors office has obtained a statement from the heads of Secondary
School No. 8 in the Bokhtar district, to the effect that in pursuance of an
order from the head of the jamoat [local government body] of the Faizali Saidov
Farm, the schoolchildren were sent to shore up the cotton plants and weed the
fields, he said.
Fathulloev said local education officials claimed that schools had organised
summer camps where the children could have a holiday - and occasionally help
out on the farm if they felt like it.
But at these summer camps, the schoolchildren worked like adults from six in
the morning onwards, he said.
The regional education department for Khatlon region, which covers most of
southern Tajikistan, confirmed that schoolchildren had been sent to cotton
farms in the Bokhtar, Khuroson, Vose, Nosiri Khusrav and Shahrituz districts.
Prosecutors say they are determined to pursue this case to the end,
The local authorities broke the law, and theyre confident that now the school
year is over, the law-enforcement agencies will forget about this incident. But
in September, when teachers and schoolchildren gather again, we will continue
our investigation, said Fathulloev.
In the Bokhtar district, a major cotton-growing area near the southwestern city
of Qorghanteppe, people say three schools including the one now under
investigation deployed children as free farm labour in May.
They said children were being used because farmers were no longer prepared to
work for little or no money, or to accept payment in kind in the form of dried
cotton stalks, used as fuel in the Tajik countryside.
Vohidhuja Aslonov of the Khatlon regional agricultural department told IWPR
that the authorities have got used to forcing people to work for free like
slaves, paying them in cotton stalks.
Regional leaders in Tajikistan are under pressure to meet production targets
for cotton, most of which is exported.
Although Tajikistan privatised farms in the Nineties, the land is still leased
from the state, which gives the government a powerful instrument with which to
force farmers to grow cotton rather than other crops.
Production has averaged less than half a million ton of raw cotton a year since
2001, but in 2004, the government approved a programme designed to raise output
to 800,000 tons a year by 2015.
But instead of improving, production has dropped significantly over the last
two years, due mainly to bad weather. In 2005, for instance, output was 448,000
tons instead of the anticipated 610,000 tons, while last year it slipped
further to 443,000.
The Tajik government is a signatory to international conventions prohibiting
the use of child labour, and officially opposes the practice. President Imomali
Rahmon raises the issue every autumn at harvest time.
However, pressure to fulfil the plan coupled with severe manpower shortages
exacerbated by the exodus of hundreds of thousands of men who work as seasonal
labour in Russia means schoolchildren are still being forced into the fields
to plant, tend and harvest the crop.
The International Organisation for Migration, 40 per cent of the cotton in
Tajikistan is gathered by children for minimal remuneration in some cases 20
US dollars for the three to four months of cotton harvesting.
According to the United Nations Children's Fund, this means that secondary
school pupils in Tajikistan on average miss out on a third of the curriculum
because they are out working in the fields. The work is backbreaking and the
children risk health hazards such as the pesticides used on the crop.
In contrast to the general decline in output, Bokhtar district with 60 per
cent of its arable land under cotton exceeded its target by 10 per cent last
year, gathering 26,000 tons, and this year the plan is to hit 30,000 tons.
If this target is met, it will be thanks in part to child labour.
We worked every day for three hours in the morning and at least two hours in
the afternoon, but we have not been paid for our work yet, said one pupil at
the secondary school now being investigated by prosecutors.
Abubakr Choriev, a resident of Navbakhor in the Bokhtar district, said his
brother, a teacher, was instructed to take his pupils to a farm to tend the
We asked him to refuse
but he said he had no choice, because on the first
day, the school principal had refused to send the pupils out to the fields and
got a reprimand from the district education department the next day and had to
send the children to work, he said.
Choriev dismissed claims by local officials that some children had volunteered
as a way of earning pocket money, and others were helping their parents out.
We live in the village of Navbahor, but our children get sent to a
neighbouring farm instead, he said. The local authorities are abusing their
powers and using children to do difficult work.
Choriev said the fields where the children were sent belonged to farms where
the staff were refusing to work because they had not been paid either this year
Last year, we werent paid a penny for our work, said one of these farmers.
This year, most of the farmers abandoned their share of the lease, and there
was no one left to work in the cotton fields. I myself didnt want to keep
working in return for cotton stalks.
Children in other parts of Tajikistan tell similar stories of exploitation, and
say they could not refuse if they wanted to because the small amount they are
paid still represents vital income for their families.
Talab Najimiddinov, who is in the seventh grade at school in Khatlons
Kolkhozobod district, works the fields together with his sister in return for
the equivalent of a few dollars or foodstuff such as flour.
Their father died some years ago, and their mother gets only a small pension.
The family has one hundred square metres of land, granted in return for helping
out on the farm, and they use the plot to grow vegetables to eat.
We work because its impossible not to, said Talab. If we dont
lose this piece of land.
In the Qubodiyon district, also in the south of Tajikistan, women and
adolescents are working the fields even though it is noon and the sun is
I belong to the farm so I work on the fields. I dont earn any money, and I
didnt know I was supposed to be paid, said Savrigul Shernazarova, a
ninth-grade pupil who attends the local school. Sometimes the thermometer goes
over 40 degrees.
The work the children have done so far is only a prelude to the usual mass
turnout that is expected for the autumn harvest. It remains to be seen whether
the practice will be curtailed if prosecutors in Bokhtar district wind up their
investigation and launch what could be a precedent-setting prosecution.
Rajabi Zainiddin is the pseudonym of an IWPR contributor in Qurghonteppa.
CONCERN AT PLANS TO EXPEL AFGHAN REFUGEES FROM TAJIK CAPITAL
Recent arrivals told they must leave Dushanbe and live wherever their residence
papers were issued.
By Salimakhon Vahobzade and Ruhshona Alieva in Dushanbe
Afghan refugees in the Tajik capital are appealing for protection after being
ordered to leave Dushanbe and move to areas mostly in the south of the country.
A group of Afghans have petitioned the Tajikistan office of the United Nations
High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, asking it to safeguard their rights to
housing and work. UNHCR is reportedly negotiating with the authorities, but
would give no comment to IWPR.
Tajik police issued instructions in early June that those Afghan refugees
registered as resident in areas outside the capital must go and live there. The
official reason is that refugees who have found work in Dushanbe are breaching
labour and residence regulations.
Tajikistan has had several influxes of refugees from its southern neighbour
because of successive conflicts there in the last two decades. This measure,
though, seems to apply mainly to those who have arrived since 2000.
In late 2000, a year before the United States-led Coalition routed the Taleban,
fighting between the Islamic movement and the Northern Alliance group holding
out against it sparked a new wave of refugees.
The Tajik authorities refused to let them in, arguing that some of them were
armed, so they remained stuck in no-mans land. More Afghans joined them to
escape fighting between the Coalition and the Taleban the following autumn.
Those who were allowed to settle in Tajikistan after that time were required to
live in largely rural areas, mainly close to the southern border.
But many have since found their way to the capital where it easier for them to
find work, often in trade and business. Official figures put the number of
Afghan refugees in Tajikistan at 900, while other estimates put the figure
closer to 2,000.
There have been regular police raids to catch illegal migrants in Dushanbe
since 2000, and while the numbers have fallen significantly, refugees
registered in other parts of the country still come to the city in search of
The head of Tajikistans Agency for Social Welfare and Migration, Anvar Boboev,
told IWPR that the new restriction applies only to migrants who have arrived in
the last two years, while those refugees who obtained residence rights in
Dushanbe prior to that have the right to remain.
His explanation for the expulsion plan was that if large numbers of foreign
nationals start living in the city, it is inconvenient for the locals.
After receiving 60 letters and complaints from its nationals, the Afghan
embassy has now asked the Tajik foreign ministry to examine their case.
Embassy official Hamid Timur said the new regulations fail to take into account
the fact that many Afghans are forced to go to Dushanbe to find work and a
school where their children can study in the Dari language.
In addition, as foreigners, the Afghans felt safer in a big city, said Timur.
They fear for their lives because in remote villages the police do virtually
nothing, he said.
The Tajik foreign ministry insists that no one is being treated unfairly. An
official ministry representative, Davlatali Nazriev, told IWPR that
Tajikistans refugee legislation has remained unchanged since 2000 and requires
forced migrants to live where they are registered.
He said a recent police check on passports revealed that a large number of
Afghans were living and working in Dushanbe illegally in breach of that law.
These refugees are not being deported out of the country; all they have to do
is obey its laws. Many of them are registered as residents in [various] regions
but live in the capital, he said.
Shokirjon Hakimov, the deputy head of the opposition Social Democratic Party,
condemns attempts to move the Afghans out of the capital.
The governments decision is inappropriate and runs counter to the [good]
relationship between Tajikistan and Afghanistan, he said. The Afghan diaspora
has given the Tajikistan authorities no reason to adopt such extreme measures.
Many of the Afghans in Dushanbe cited schooling as a reason why they needed to
break the resident rules. Although Dari is more or less the same Persian
language as Tajik, it is written in Arabic rather than Cyrillic script.
Ghulam Sakhi has residence papers for Tursunzade in the west of Tajikistan, but
rents an apartment in Dushanbe and works at a shopping centre so that his
children can go to an Afghan school.
My children go to the embassys school here, where they meet other Afghan
children and study Afghanistans school curriculum, he said.
Boboev, however, believes integration is best for the refugees, and their
children should therefore attend Tajik schools.
There are now around 60 Afghan children studying at mainstream Dushanbe
schools. You cant set up special schools for refugees wherever they live, he
said. We have no language barriers with the Afghans. I dont think it can be
too difficult for them to send their children to Tajik schools.
According to her residence status, Mina Zalmai should be living in Qubodiyon
district some 160 kilometres south of the capital, but she and her family are
in Dushanbe. She said people like them were making a positive contribution to
society, so the Tajik authorities should show them a little more understanding.
My husband has a business in Dushanbe, and thanks to him several Tajik
nationals have permanent jobs that reduces poverty in this country. We pay
our taxes and obey the law, she said.
Salimakhon Vahobzade and Ruhshona Alieva are pseudonyms used by IWPR
contributors in Dushanbe.
KAZAK EXAM SCAMMERS OUTWIT OFFICIALS
Competition for subsidised places at university fuels entrance exam corruption.
By Anton Dosybiev in Almaty
Government controls are failing to prevent endemic corruption in the Kazak
education system, with officials accepting bribes from secondary school
students to let them pass a national test necessary for university admission.
The Unified National Test, UNT, which was established in Kazakstan four years
ago in an attempt to introduce standardised and transparent assessment
procedures, took place this year from June 12 to 15 at exam centres around the
A pass in the test is necessary for university entry, and with tough
competition for state-funded places at universities, there is pressure on
students to obtain as high a score as possible.
But despite the authorities attempts to control the test and prevent cheating,
increasingly sophisticated scams are uncovered every year, with students being
given more opportunities to pay to pass the exam.
Last year, a scandal emerged when information was leaked which threatened to
undermine the integrity of the test.
In order to prevent a similar occurrence this year, answers to the UNT were
publicly declared to be top secret and put on the register of secret documents
of the Kazakstan National Security Committee, NSC.
At the same time, the director of the National Centre of State Standards for
Education and Testing also reassured the public that safeguards had been put in
place and that the education ministry would ensure that the integrity of the
test would be protected.
Security measures at the centre where information in the test is stored were
increased and education ministry officials claimed a leak was practically
impossible, as computers storing answers to the test were completely isolated,
NSC officers stood watch, and 16 security cameras were set up around the centre.
In spite of this, the press service of the Almaty NSC reported on June 12 that
the alleged organiser of a criminal gang had been arrested in Almaty,
apparently distributing answers to questions - the first time anyone has been
detained for such an offence.
According to the press service, the man was arrested as he attempted to sell a
compact disc for 1,300,000 tenge (around 10,600 US dollars) containing 10,000
codes of correct answers to UNT questions.
During a subsequent police raid prompted by the arrest, NSC employees found
large sums of money - 25,000 dollars, and over 2 million tenge (around 16,000
dollars) - said to have been received for assistance in passing the UNT.
Lists of graduates names, as well as photocopies of their identification and
passes to the test, were reportedly confiscated from the group, and a criminal
case has now been opened.
And this was not an isolated incident. In Almaty alone, NSC officers recorded
over 180 incidents where people attempted to cheat during testing.
There were 20 attempts by unregistered people to be admitted to sit the test,
over 40 cases of people apparently using mobile phones to receive answers, and
over 30 cases where people sitting the test had notes containing the answers
confiscated from them.
According to the students themselves, corruption is rife throughout the system.
Azamat, a graduate of one Almaty school, told IWPR that at his school this year
officials accepted bribes from students for a range of services.
The codes of the correct answers could be bought for 3,000 dollars, and you
could bring cheat notes for free, but to use them you had to pay 100 dollar. To
make them ignore the fact that you were using a telephone or pocket computer,
you had to pay 300 dollars, said Azamat.
Some students parents say its understandable that people are tempted to pay
Of course its expensive [to bribe an official to pass the test] and not
everyone can afford it, but studying is even more expensive, said the mother
of one school graduate of an Almaty school who wished to remain anonymous.
There are a limited number of state-funded university places, and in order to
qualify for one, students must gain high marks in the test.
But with increasing opportunities to pay for answers, students scores are
being raised artificially, making the competition to secure assisted places
With more students looking to cheat, the bribes become higher and the various
tricks used become more sophisticated.
Zinaida Savina, an independent education expert, said that the unprecedented
excitement surrounding higher education which has been seen over the last six
to seven years is linked with an incorrect understanding of prestige.
She argues that the value of certificates is undermined, because people are
paying to receive them.
For girls, a diploma is often seen as a part of the dowry, said Savina. The
people have declared the slogan Educated at any Price - and bend over
backwards to get higher education.
Human rights advocate Rozlana Taukina said the demand for higher marks and the
development of sophisticated methods of cheating means that the education
system is turning into a business.
I was told of a case when children were approached while they were sitting the
UNT and asked if their parents were outside. If they could pay 1,000-2,000
dollars, then they could be sure of an excellent result, Taukina told IWPR.
She said the current scandal surrounding the UNT is a sign of the corruption
of the country and believes that paying to pass exams not only degrades the
society of Kazakstan, but above all the children the future of the country.
The corruption surrounding the UNT has also brought out a large number of
confidence tricksters, and students and parents looking for easy ways to pass
the test risk falling into their traps.
In the Saryagash region of the South Kazakstan region, ten parents demanded
law-enforcement bodies to find a conman who promised to ensure their children
received 100 points in the UNT for 1,000 dollars, and then disappeared.
According to Savina, Kazak society is being degraded by the drive for money and
the positions that can be bought with this money.
An official who gets into power at his own expense and the expense of his
relatives, and loses his honour and shame as he does so, becomes dangerous for
society and undermines the entire system of state security, she said.
The scandal surrounding the [test] shows once more how low we have sunk.
Anton Dosybiev is an IWPR correspondent in Almaty.
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