Slow Progress on Child Labour

 Action plan for implementing international convention still under discussion.

By Khurshed Duraksh - Central Asia
RCA Issue 704,
20 Jun 13

Child labour is common in Tajikistan in a range of forms, but the government says it is serious about putting a stop to it, with a national strategy due to take effect next year.

Schoolchildren are still sent out to pick cotton by hand every autumn. Others – typically from poorer families – drop out of education altogether, and can be seen on city streets and at markets, selling small items, pushing handcarts, and collecting fares on buses. They are the products of two decades in which post-independence Tajikistan suffered first civil war and then a prolonged economic depression.

Apart from the risks they run, from accidental injury to abuse, such children are losing out on educational opportunities that could offer career options other than a life in low-paid manual work.

In rural areas, children from farming families are involved in manual labour all year round, not just at harvest time. Health ministry official Mahmadsharif Atoev says this cycle of work, and the lack of schooling it implies, leads minors – and especially girls – seamlessly into a life of bonded labour.

“It’s my conviction that children must not turn into slaves to their own family,”

Recalling the Soviet era when manual labour was used much less than now in the cotton industry, Atoev asked, “Where are the cotton harvesting machines that used to do the work all across the country? We have sliced [collective farms] up into all these tiny farm plots. If you look, you’ll see it is mainly women who work on them.”

Tajik law prohibits the hiring of under-15s altogether, and the country has ratified international conventions banning the employment of minors and the use of young people in hard manual jobs.

Tajikistan has signed the international Convention on the Worst Forms of Child Labour, which requires states to take action to eliminate child slavery, forced labour, prostitution, and work that harms the health, safety or morals of children - and in 2005 it amended its own labour code in an effort to further protect young workers.

A six-year “national action plan” on implementing the convention is currently under discussion and should be passed by the end of this year.

Jamshed Quddusov, an expert on child labour issues, points out discrepancies between national legislation and the convention.

“Tajik law makes no mention of the terms ‘child labour’ or ‘the worst forms of child labour’. And since there isn’t the terminology, there aren’t any approaches to resolving it or to shaping policy,” he said. “Sure, we have ratified the conventions, but they need to be incorporated into our own legislation.”

Quddusov added that although the current labour code required a list to be drawn up of what constituted dangerous and harmful work for minors, this had never been done. “If we don’t have a list, we don’t have an instrument for implementing policy,” he said.

However, Qiomiddin Miraliev, head of welfare at the ministry responsible for young people, said there was no need to rush into new lawmaking, since there already existed clauses on child labour contained in various pieces of legislation. He recommended producing a booklet setting these out, as a guide for officials.

In the meantime, it falls to the police to identify and round up minors they catch working.

Interior ministry official Zebonisso Kholdorbekova said police sweeps regularly netted hundreds of young people washing cars, taking bus fares, and selling polythene shopping bags.

“Many of them are from large families. Their mother is at home with the smallest child, and their father is disabled. How can we ban them from working?” she asked.

(A radio version of this story, in Russian and Tajik, can be found here.)

Khurshed Durakhsh is an IWPR-trained radio reporter in Tajikistan.