case, prosecutors have started looking into the widespread practice of using 
minors to work on cotton farms.  By Rajabi Zainiddin in Qurghonteppa 

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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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 prosecutor’s 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 prosecutor’s 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 they’re 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 
cotton plants. 

“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 
or last. 

“Last year, we weren’t 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 didn’t 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 Khatlon’s 
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 it’s impossible not to,” said Talab. “If we don’t… we might 
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 
fiercely hot. 

“I belong to the farm so I work on the fields. I don’t earn any money, and I 
didn’t 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.


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-man’s 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 Tajikistan’s 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 
Tajikistan’s 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 government’s 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 embassy’s school here, where they meet other Afghan 
children and study Afghanistan’s 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 can’t set up special schools for refugees wherever they live,” he 
said. “We have no language barriers with the Afghans. I don’t 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.


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 it’s understandable that people are tempted to pay 
these bribes.

“Of course it’s 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 
even harder. 

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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