price rises in energy-rich Central Asian states to its European consumers.  By 
Elina Karakulova in Bishkek

NEW RAIL LINK TO OPEN CENTRAL ASIA TO IRAN  Transnational rail project 
connecting Iran with Turkmenistan and Kazakstan could have major strategic and 
trade implications for the region.  By Yaroslav Razumov in Almaty

THUMBS DOWN FOR UZBEK BANK REFORM  The government wants everyone to open a bank 
account, but many people are too poor or too canny to trust an institution with 
their hard-earned cash.  By IWPR staff in Central Asia

BREAKING DOWN THE UZBEK-TAJIK BORDER DIVIDE  A shooting incident underlines how 
two neighbouring nations are divided by diplomatic animosity as well as fences. 
 By Mukammal Odinaev and Lola Khalikjanova in Dushanbe

CHILD MINERS AT RISK IN KYRGYZSTAN  In the impoverished south, children as 
young as ten are digging coal in treacherous mineshafts.  By Abdujalil 
Abdurasulov in Kok Jangak, Kyrgyzstan


CROSS CAUCASUS JOURNALISM NETWORK. IWPR has launched the website of a unique 
Caucasus-wide programme, funded by the EU and the Finnish government, forming a 
network of more than 50 journalists from across the North and South Caucasus. 
They are meeting and collaborating in all parts of the region over the next 
three years. www.crosscaucasus.net

SAHAR JOURNALISTS’ ASSISTANCE FUND: IWPR is establishing a fund, in honour of 
Sahar al-Haideri, to support journalist participants in its training and 
reporting programmes around the world.  The Sahar Journalists’ Assistance Fund 
will be used to support local journalists in cases of exile or disability, or 
to assist their families in case of death in service. To find out more or 
donate please go to: http://www.iwpr.net/sahar.html 

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Russia will pass on sharp price rises in energy-rich Central Asian states to 
its European consumers.

By Elina Karakulova in Bishkek

All three Central Asian gas-rich states – Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and 
Kazakstan – have announced gas price hikes for their main customer, the Russian 
gas monopoly Gazprom, in a move which may have severe knock-on effects for 

Energy experts say that as Central Asian gas coming via Russia becomes more 
expensive , European countries could start pushing harder for long-discussed 
projects to create alternative routes, such as pipelines under the Caspian Sea. 

On December 5, Daniyar Berlibayev, vice-president of the Kazak national oil and 
gas company KazMunaiGaz, said his country planned to raise export prices for 
gas to 190 US dollars per 1,000 cubic metres. This is 50 dollars more than the 
current maximum price.

The company is also negotiating with Gazprom – the main purchaser of Central 
Asian gas – to secure higher transit fees for gas transported through Kazak 
territory coming from Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan 

“Global trends are such that gas is going up in price. Accordingly, we too are 
considering this possibility," Interfax news agency quoted a KazMunaiGaz 
official as saying.

Turkmenistan, which has the largest gas reserves in the region and exports 
mainly to Russia, has already announced a phased price rise. In late November, 
it said prices would rise by 30 per cent for the first half of 2008 and by 50 
per cent for the rest of 2008. This means Gazprom will have to pay 130 and then 
150 dollars per cu m in 2008 from the current 100 dollars per 1,000 cu m.

The late Turkmen leader, Saparmurat Niyazov, who died in December 2006, 
promised not to change the terms of gas agreements with Gazprom – including the 
100 dollar price-tag - until 2009.

Uzbekistan, another major gas producer, also plans to charge more for its 
exports, and is now negotiating the precise percentage of the rise. 

Last year, Uzbekistan sold nine billion of the more than 60 billion cubic 
metres of gas it produced Gazprom. It also supplies Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. 
Unlike Turkmenistan, it keeps much of its gas for domestic consumption as its 
28-million population is more than five times that of the neighbouring state. 

Energy analysts say the almost simultaneous rise in gas prices across the 
region cannot have come as a complete surprise to Gazprom. The Russian company 
makes a healthy profit from Central Asian gas by selling it to Europe at an 
average of 260 dollars per 1,000 cu m.

Yaroslav Razumov, an energy expert in Kazakstan, believes preliminary 
negotiations on pricing were conducted unofficially far in advance of any 
announcement. Last year, several Gazprom officials said the company expected 
energy costs to fluctuate. 

“I am sure it was not unexpected for Russia; it wasn’t like an ice cube dropped 
inside Gazprom’s collar. That would have been a very unfriendly political act 
against Moscow,” said Razumov. 
“So I don’t see any deliberate political move behind it.”

Razumov added that although this round of price hikes had probably been 
carefully managed by all sides, it was indicative of things to come.

“As energy gets more and more expensive throughout the world, it will 
definitely influence Russia’s business relationships with Central Asian 
states,” he said. 

Analysts say the next time Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan want to change the terms 
of contractual agreements, they will have to show they really are in a position 
to dictate market terms, in other words prove they have the gas reserves to do 
so. Neither country has allowed independent surveys of their actual and 
possible reserves, so their claims of immense reserves remain unverified.

Razumov added that while the price rise will not harm Gazprom much, it will hit 
the company’s consumers in Europe. 

The impact will be especially severe in Belarus and Ukraine, whose economies 
are heavily dependent on imported gas but are not wealthy enough to soak up 
higher fuel costs. They could face a severe energy crisis if prices continue 

Experts suggest that European countries may now start pushing harder for 
alternative gas projects bypassing Russia, such as the Transcaspian Gas 
Pipeline, which would run under the Caspian taking gas from Kazakstan and 
Turkmenistan to Europe via Azerbaijan and Turkey.

“Europe will now be searching actively for alternative sources and transit 
energy routes.… So it’s very likely that Europe will lobby more actively for 
direct imports of Central Asian gas, although many obstacles lie on the way of 
such projects,” Razumov added. 

Among the many problems surrounding the Transcaspian project are the technical 
difficulty and high cost of laying a pipeline on the seabed. Moreover, the 
sea’s legal status is still unresolved, and a pipeline would face fierce 
opposition from Russia and Iran. 

Elina Karakulova is IWPR’s Central Asia editor in Bishkek


Transnational rail project connecting Iran with Turkmenistan and Kazakstan 
could have major strategic and trade implications for the region.

By Yaroslav Razumov in Almaty

Leaders of the two most energy-rich Central Asian republics have hailed the 
start of construction of a new railway line linking them with Iran.

The 900-kilometre transnational railway will run from Kazakstan through 
Turkmenistan to Iran, and more broadly will create connections from Russia to 
the Gulf.

The railway will increase the export potential of the two mineral-rich Central 
Asian republics, experts say, as well as making Turkmenistan a regional 
transport hub.

Construction of the line started in Turkmenistan on December 1 at the border 
town of Barakat, near Iran’s Golestan province, at a launch ceremony attended 
by Turkmen president Gurbanguly Berdymuhammedov and Kazak and Iranian 

Berdymuhammedov signed an agreement with his Kazak counterpart Nursultan 
Nazarbaev in May to build their stretch of the railway, and this was finalised 
at the October summit of Caspian Sea states in Tehran.

The work, costed at 620 million US dollars, will be funded by the governments 
of the three countries. 

The line is expected to come into operation in 2011, and will initially carry 
up to five million tons of freight a year, later rising to 12 million.

At the lavish ceremonies marking the start of construction, President 
Berdymuhammedov symbolically bolted together two sections of rail using a 
gold-plated tool, and declared that the railway would become a key transit 
route for dozens of countries.

“All of Europe, Russia and the Central Asian countries will gain access to 
southern waters via a shorter route, while the Gulf states will gain similar 
opportunities in a northerly direction,” news agencies quoted him as saying.

Transport experts agree the project could bring about radical changes to the 
flow of north-south traffic between the Gulf and the former Soviet states. 

One Moscow-based transport expert, who did not want to be named, said the idea 
of joining the transport systems of Iran and the Soviet Union had been around 
since the Second World War. But the project has been accelerated by Iran’s 
desire to broaden its options in the face of the stand-off with the West over 
its nuclear ambitions.

“Now, Iran badly needs any external support it can get, and a transport 
corridor leading to the north will help serve as such support,” the expert 

If Iran becomes embroiled in large-scale external conflict, - a possibility 
that US president George Bush this week refused to rule out - Iran is likely to 
lose much of its maritime access to external markets and sources of provision 
through the Gulf. A land route running northwards would then provide a lifeline.

The project offers significant benefits to Turkmenistan and Kazakstan, the most 
important Central Asian countries in terms of energy resources. Both want to 
expand their export routes, including for oil and gas. 

Kazakstan, which is experiencing rapid economic growth derived from its 
enormous oil reserves, plans to increase oil exports from the 58 million tons a 
year to 120 or even 150 million tons by 2015.

The secretive and authoritarian state of Turkmenistan is another beneficiary of 
rising world demands for energy. It produces more than 65 billion cubic metres 
of gas every year, 40 billion cubic metres of which currently goes through 
pipelines controlled by Russian gas giant Gazprom.

Last year, Turkmenistan signed an agreement with Iran to increase gas 
deliveries from eight to 14 billion cubic metres a year. It also has 
significant and partly unexplored reserves of oil and gas under the Caspian Sea.

While the Kazak and Turkmen leaderships consider alternative pipeline routes, 
including eastwards to China, transporting fuel on railway tankers through Iran 
could offer them useful breathing-space. According to the Moscow-based analyst, 
they could develop greater capacity to liquefy gas for easier transportation by 
the time the railway is complete. 

Moscow, too, will benefit from better transport links in the region, its 
traditional sphere of influence. 

“Russia is thereby strengthening its position in Central Asia, and also in 
terms of competition with China over transport,” said the analyst.

One problem with harmonising continental rail links, however, is the practical 
question of different rail gauges. Kazak and Turkmen railways are built to the 
wider gauge used in Russia. Iran’s railways, on the other hand, are the British 
“standard gauge” as used on 60 per cent of the world’s rail networks.

If these countries are to avoid the time-consuming procedure of lifting up the 
rolling stock and shifting it onto different wheel axles every time it crosses 
the border – currently the case on the Kazak-Chinese frontier, the new rail 
route may have to be adapted to the international standard.

Yaroslav Razumov is an independent journalist in Almaty.


The government wants everyone to open a bank account, but many people are too 
poor or too canny to trust an institution with their hard-earned cash.

By IWPR staff in Central Asia

New measures designed to encourage people to put their money in Uzbekistan’s 
banks are likely to come up against resistance from a population that deeply 
distrusts both the financial sector and any official attempt to monitor their 

In early November, Uzbek president Islam Karimov issued a decree requiring 
banks and other financial institutions to take steps to encourage savings and 
reduce the size of the cash economy. 

The plan focuses particularly on funding in the agricultural sector, where 
banks are instructed to do a range of tasks from offering loans and insurance 
to farmers to establishing money exchange points and “mini-banks” at the 
markets where farm produce is sold. 
It all seems like a laudable attempt to encourage Uzbeks to open savings 
accounts and adapt to modern, cashless transactions. 

The problem for those tasked with implementing it, though, is that there is 
very little public confidence in the banking system.

Karimov’s decree talks about a “liberalised” financial sector. But some suspect 
that the decree will be interpreted as an instruction to force rather than 
encourage people to open accounts, and that the latter will be subject to 
intense scrutiny by external agencies like the tax service. 

“Coercing people to make cash deposits has nothing to do with the word 
‘liberalisation’ said Jazgul Ismailova, an economics lecturer at the American 
University of Central Asia, based in the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek. “You need to 
create market mechanisms to attract money.” 

Karimov called on banks to ensure their customers had “unrestricted and full” 
access to their cash. Uzbekistan’s banks have a poor record in this area. 
Subservient to the government, they have in the past have restricted customers’ 
rights to withdraw money whenever fiscal policy dictated this. In addition, 
many people suspect that the banks release confidential account information to 
the secret service. 

The market traders who sell agricultural produce – one of the main targets of 
this decree – are unimpressed, and doubt they would see their money again if 
they entrusted it to the banks. 

“I buy a bullock for a thousand dollars, but I don’t earn much from selling the 
meat,” said a butcher at a Tashkent market. “If I deposit the money, I don’t 
think they’ll give it back to me. If they’d give me a loan that would be a 
different story. 

“No one trusts the banks these days. We don’t see what relevance they have to 
our lives.”

“Even if they put a gun to my head, I won’t use the banks,” said a woman 
selling carrots at the Farhod bazaar, one of the biggest in the capital 

“Look, I earn nearly two dollars a day and it’s barely enough to support my 
five children. No one welcomes these measures. We’ve got enough problems with 
the taxman as it is.”

Like many people in Uzbekistan, another woman trading at the market is hardly 
in a position to open a bank account. 

“Every day I buy six eggs and two loaves of bread. That’s with the money I earn 
in a day. It’s the same for thousands of other traders at this market,” she 
said. “If the authorities force everyone to start using the banks, there will 
be a revolt. Everyone is living on the poverty line, on the verge of ruin.”

Uzbek banks have remained tight-lipped about the move, although one employee 
who asked to remain anonymous said the institutions “haven’t had any 
instructions and don’t know anything about any decree.” He added, “It won’t 
really change anything anyway – they’ll carry on as usual”. 

Analysts offer various explanations for why Karimov has issued this decree. One 
is that because the government runs a strongly interventionist economic policy, 
it believes it can curb inflation if it can only get full control over the 
circulation of money - especially if it can mop up some of the cash floating 
around and keeping the informal economy running. 

“The decision may be designed to curb inflation and reduce the shadow economy,” 
said Ismailova. 

She cited a report from the Fergana.ru news site which compared prices in 
October with the same month in 2006, and indicated that real prices had risen 
by between 30 and 100 per cent for housing, basic foodstuffs and consumer items.

Ismailova predicts that further inflation will result from a public-sector wage 
increase the authorities have announced as a sweetener for the December 23 
presidential election, which Karimov will almost certainly win. 

A commentator in Tashkent argued that placed in the context of the whole 
economy, cash transactions at the country’s bazaars are insignificant.

“The circulation of money from person to person at the markets isn’t that big…. 
That indicates that the country’s economic policy is in poor shape,” she said.

A second reason for bringing in the new system is undoubtedly to try to stamp 
out the thriving black market, by forcing traders to go through the banks so 
that the tax service can catch up with them

The informal economy in Uzbekistan is a direct consequence of years of economic 
policies designed to block imports and maintain the national currency at an 
unrealistic rate of exchange. 

“Total regulation of the economy, including the fixing of prices, has let to 
the creation of an immeasurably large informal market,” said Ismailova. 

Over the years, repeated heavy-handed measures to curb smuggling, black market 
money-changing and unlicensed market trading have failed.

The latest interventionist policies leave the authorities at risk of creating 
as many problems as they solve, analysts say. 

“It’s hard to envisage what mechanisms can be put in place to implement this 
set of instructions – perhaps tighter regulation of cash registers, or imposing 
specific conditions before people are allowed to trade at the markets,” said 
Kamran Aliev, a Tashkent-based social scientists. “In any case, it will lead to 
rising prices, and once again the man in the street will be hit.” 

Ismailova agreed, saying that as traders were forced into the confining grip of 
the state bureaucracy, they would have to factor bribes as well as taxes into 
their costs. As a result, retail prices will go up and the availability of 
goods will decline.

In the end, the impact of government attempts to control the way Uzbeks earn 
and spend their money may be diluted by people circumventing or ignoring the 

“It is a real irritant for small-time entrepreneurs at the bazaars,” said 
Dinara Dyikanova, a Kyrgyzstan-base legal expert who has worked on business 
development in Uzbekistan in the past. 

“It’s more than likely that retailers will pay bribes to the tax, police and a 
host of other agencies to avoid these complex procedures and hold onto the 
meagre amounts of cash they earn.” 

A Tashkent-based economist agreed, saying, “I think this over-hasty decision 
fails to take into account the real state of affairs – and the mood – at the 

“This one-sided move by the government could have consequences that are hard to 
predict, but I think it will remain just a piece of paper that it would be 
neither realistic nor sensible to put into practice.”

(Names of interviewees have been withheld out of concern for their security.)


A shooting incident underlines how two neighbouring nations are divided by 
diplomatic animosity as well as fences.

By Mukammal Odinaev and Lola Khalikjanova in Dushanbe

Continued friction on the border between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan reflects 
attempts by both sides to enforce visa and trade rules and clamp down on 
smuggling. However, regional analysts say that if obstructive restrictions and 
sporadic violent incidents are to be reduced, the Tajik and Uzbek governments 
will have to make more of an effort to get along with each other.

The communities along this long border have traditionally mingled and traded 
with one other – after all, the international boundary dates only from the end 
of the Soviet Union in 1991. 

However, the governments of the two independent countries have had a difficult 
relationship over the years, with each suspecting its neighbour of harbouring 
ill intentions and, on occasion, giving sanctuary to armed militants hostile to 
the other. 

That high-level animosity has played out as tighter border and customs 
restrictions, including the introduction of visa requirements. 

After the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, a militant guerrilla group, launched 
raids from Tajik territory in 1999-2000, the Uzbek military laid mines along 
parts of the frontier, which killed a number of civilians. The landmines have 
since been cleared. 

Crossing the frontier at the official checkpoints can be a lengthy and 
humiliating process, and costly, too, because of extortion by customs officer. 
Many residents of border areas prefer to defy the rules by crossing over 
illegally to trade, smuggle or visit relatives. 

However, they risk being intercepted by the security services, and things 
occasionally turn violent. 

In the latest incident, on November 6, a Tajik national was shot dead on the 
border between Tajikistan’s Istarafshan district and the Syrdarya region on the 
other side. 

Uzbekistan’s border guards service issued a statement about a week later saying 
the incident, near the Uzbek village of Karakir, involved a group of 18 Tajik 
nationals who were attempted to drive a tractor over the frontier loaded with 
fertilisers they had stolen on the Uzbek side. 

The group were, the statement alleged, aided and abetted by two armed Tajik 
border guards soldiers present on the scene. 

The Uzbeks claimed their men fired only warning shots, one of which went astray 
and killed a man, and that they were responding to aggressive behaviour.

“The Tajik border guards further provoked the incident by using openly 
threatening gestures and words, and by aggressively demanding that the loaded 
tractor be allowed to drive into Tajikistan,” said a news agency report of the 
statement. “In an attempt to protect themselves and contain the incident, one 
of the Uzbek border guards fired three warning shots in the air. At that 
moment, he was hit in his chest by a stone [thrown at him], and as a result, 
Abdullo Ataev, a citizen of Tajikistan, was wounded by a stray bullet. Atayev, 
41, died of the gunshot wound."

The Tajik border guards’ press service in the capital Dushanbe confirmed to 
IWPR that an incident had taken place, but refused to comment on it on the 
grounds that an investigation was still under way.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a Tajik border guard told IWPR a different 
version of events.

He said the Tajik civilians had already paid off the Uzbek frontier guards so 
that they could pass unhindered. It was in fact the Tajik border guards who 
tried to stop them coming across, he said, and this sparked the confrontation. 

He said the Tajik frontier service kept quiet about the incident to avoid 
harming bilateral relations, but he alleged that this only allowed the Uzbeks 
to get their story out first. 

“The Uzbeks killed one of our citizens and took his brother away to their 
territory, yet they are making accusations against us,” he said indignantly. 

Official figures vary widely on the number of incidents in which weapons have 
been used, but Tajik sources say there have been 15 this year. Last year, two 
people were killed in border incidents; Ataev seems to have been the first this 

Sometimes people cross the frontier unwittingly, since there are areas where no 
one is really aware where it runs. On other occasions, smugglers fall out with 
the border guards they have bribed, or unexpectedly run into a different patrol.

Corruption is a major issue here, on a border that is one of the routes taken 
by Afghan’s booming heroin exports en route to consumers in Russia, Europe, and 
increasingly the Central Asian states themselves. 

According to Tajikistan-base political analyst Rashid Abdullo, the recent 
confrontation highlighted the problem of corrupt officials in both countries.

“As I understand it, this was an attempt to smuggle fertilisers, which 
Tajikistan doesn’t produce enough of to meet its agricultural needs,” he said. 
“Some members of the very services - on both sides - that ought to be 
preventing such illegal activities are involved in them.”

At the same time, Abdullo believes crime flourishes and low-level disputes 
become more likely to escalate into firefights when the border guards’ 
employers – the Tajik and Uzbek governments – have such a frosty relationship.

“Unfortunately, until relations between these neighbouring states improve, 
there will be scope for various types of illegal activity on the border, 
including smuggling and all the negative things associated with it,” he said. 

Economist Hojimahmad Umarov argues that the current restrictive rules governing 
trade and travel between the two countries must be eased. Only this will curb 
the illegal traffic, he said, whereas heavy-handed methods like imposing 
stricter controls simply encourage traders to go underground as smugglers.

Umarov believes a more cooperative relationship, translated into less 
oppressive rules on the ground, would be good for the economies of both 
Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. 

Komeb Jalilov, an analyst with the Centre for Strategic Studies in Tajikistan, 
believes such border incidents should not be viewed from a political angle, as 
they simply involve criminal offences.

At the same time, Jalilov would welcome improved relations between his country 
and Uzbekistan, and is optimistic that things are slowly moving forward. 

The two states have undergone something of a rapprochement as a result of joint 
membership of regional groupings like the Eurasian Economic Community, 
Collective Security Treaty Organisation and the Shanghai Cooperation 
Organisation. Jalilov argues that there are other signs of a more cooperative 
relationship on energy issues, in particular.

“Although Tajik-Uzbek relations have been icy for some time, there is now a 
thaw at government level,” he concluded. 

Cohabitation, not confrontation could be the future for these two nations. As 
Umarov pointed out, it is precisely because they are so closely intertwined 
with a great deal of movement between them that it is hard for officials to 
enforce a rigid divide between them now.

“The situation is very complex, because you have a brother living on one side 
and his father or sister on the other,” said Umarov. “Everything is entangled. 
What the leaders need to do is reach agreement and regulate everything in a 
civilised kind of way, and then we won’t have situations like this.”

Mukammal Odinaeva is a correspondent with the Business and Politics newspaper 
and Lola Khalikjanova is IWPR editor in Dushanbe.


In the impoverished south, children as young as ten are digging coal in 
treacherous mineshafts.

By Abdujalil Abdurasulov in Kok Jangak, Kyrgyzstan

>From a distance, you would never guess that this small hole in the hill is the 
>entrance to a coal mine. More surprising still is the sight of young children 
>crawling through the tiny aperture to dig the coal from inside. 

This is Kok Jangak, a village in southern Kyrgyzstan where children work in 
dark, airless mineshafts all year round to support their families. 

I wanted to find out more, so I followed one young miner as he went inside and 
hacked out coal. 

The mine itself is not a professionally-made shaft, but a hole dug out of the 
earth in the hillside. There are no props to hold up the roof. 

Inside the air was cold. The dark silhouette in front of me walked slowly 
towards a light shining up ahead. Footsteps and heavy breathing broke the 

The shape ahead of me was Rahimjon, a slim boy with a sooty face. He had no 
safety equipment or protective clothing.

Any moment, the walls might cave in and bury the little miner.

Rahimjon emerged carrying a sack that looked as heavy as he was. He emptied the 
dark, glittering lumps into a pile, and ran back in to collect more.

Looking at his coal-stained face, it was hard to tell how old he was. His eyes 
looked tired from his harsh working life and only his voice hinted at his real 
age – just 13. 

With his 12-year-old brother, he has been working as a miner for more than a 

“We came here to earn money as there are no other jobs,” said Rahimjon. 

Every morning, tens or perhaps hundreds of children like him enter coal mines 
around Kok Jangak. The young miners told me that the several dozen mining 
squads operating in the area each have at least three to four kids under the 
age of 15 working for them.

Following the collapse of the Soviet-era, Kyrgyzstan’s once-buoyant mining 
industry collapsed. State-run mines were closed in 1998, and since then some 
private companies have moved in to take them over.

Apart from the private firms, there are thought to be dozens of unofficial 
companies operating. Many locals bypass these firms altogether and dig out coal 
from makeshift shafts to sell themselves.

It is a dangerous business - over the last three years, more than 30 adult 
miners have died, mostly from roof falls and carbon monoxide poisoning.

In many households in Kok Jangak, fathers have gone to work abroad in Russia or 
Kazakstan, and children often have to become breadwinners.

They are hired for mining because their slight frames are suited to crawling 
through the cramped shafts.

However, they say that even they struggle to fit through the tiny spaces.

"It is particularly difficult when several teams are working,” said Farrukh, 
15. "When I’m going up with a sack and others are coming down, they have to lie 
down so that I can climb over them and get past." 

Crawling through a coal mine with a 30-kilogram sack is not an easy job, and 
newcomers struggle in particular as they tire quickly and cannot carry heavy 

The children often slip down into holes in the corridor. 

"Everyone experiences this at the start,” said Rahimjon, adding that on another 
occasion outside the mine shaft, “My donkey slipped in the river and I lost all 
the coal I’d gathered that day.”

Rahimjon he is aware of the risks involved but says he has no choice.

Although his earnings, worth five US dollars a day, are considered relatively 
high, the money is still barely enough to make ends meet and is certainly not 
worth the dangers. 

Stones and coal often rain down from the roof of the shaft, but many mines have 
no props to prevent a collapse, and most children cannot afford helmets or 

In winter, boots become essential because the mines become flooded, but even 
so, the younger miners often have only trainer shoes for protection. 

When snow covers the paths leading to the shaft entrances, the miners have to 
beat a track themselves, and cannot use donkeys to carry the sacks as the way 
is so slippery that they animals might lose their footing.

Farrukh told me about one of the times he was injured. He was hit by stones, 
which left a deep flesh wound but at least did not cover him or block him in.

"Since I had no money to go to a hospital, I treated the wound at home. Some 
people told me to use urine on the wound. I also put on some stinky ointment," 
he recalled. 

Despite his injury, he was back at work the following day. He had little choice 
if he was to feed his family.

Labouring in these humid and poorly-vented enclosed areas affects the 
children’s heath, and many develop throat and lung problems.

Rahimjon complains of a persistent cough. "My mum is worried I might have lung 
problems. We can't go to a hospital for a medical examination as it’s too 

Another boy, Madamin, said his feet became swollen because of the cold. 
"Sometimes they get so frozen so that I can't feel them by the end of the day. 
When I go back home, my family prepares warm water to treat my legs," he said.

Ismail, the chief of this particular squad of workers, understands that it is 
illegal to employ children in the mines. However, he said the kids come begging 
him to let them work. 

"For many, this is a way to feed their family. They come and cry here. I feel 
sorry for them and let them work." 

Most of the children working the mines of Kok Jangak have dropped out of 
school, and their teachers say they can do little about it.

“These children should be studying, not working,” said schoolteacher Gulipa 
Borboeva. "But the parents ask us to let them work. They have no clothes, no 
food and no firewood to heat their houses in winter. So they have no choice but 
to work."

Mehrigul Ablezova, a sociologist from the American University of Central Asia, 
said the work was alluring for children living in poverty as they could make 
relatively good money.

“Coal mining is available for anyone who is willing to work there, and that's 
why the job is so popular,” she said. 

Ablezova said that to try to ban the practice would not work, so instead the 
solution might be to regulate it somehow and provide the children with training.

“We have to adjust our system to include children so as to alleviate their 
working conditions. There must be changes in the legislation that might perhaps 
legalise the work, so that children would have rights in their job,” she said.

Abdujalil Abdurasulov is an IWPR contributor in Almaty.

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REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA provides the international community with a unique 
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