Activist 'beaten' after BBC story

BBC News

An Uzbek rights activist has said he was beaten up after helping the BBC investigate the use of child labour in Uzbekistan's cotton industry.

Bakhtiyar Hamrayev said he was attacked within hours of the story appearing on the BBC News website and radio.

The report found that children as young as 11 were being taken out of school to help pick the cotton harvest.

The government pledged to stop using child labour last year after some Western firms boycotted Uzbek cotton.

Bakhtiyar Hamrayev told the BBC that the attack took place in the town of Jizzakh, which lies in a cotton growing area.

For the BBC's investigation, he said that 14- and 15-year old schoolchildren were taken to work in the cotton fields.

"In rural areas, children as young as 11 or 12 have been forced to leave their classrooms and help to pick cotton in nearby farms," he said.

Many are housed in inadequate accommodation and made to pay for food, he added, with the result that some ended up in debt at the end of the cotton harvest.

Vital crop

The state, which controls the cotton industry, pays the children the equivalent of about four US cents per kilogram of cotton picked.

For the BBC's investigation, he visited several cotton growing areas in the Jizzakh region, and found that children were exposed to considerable health risks.

"In many cases they drink and wash in the irrigation channels of nearby cotton fields.

"Breakfast consists of tea and bread. Lunch is almost the same while dinner is made from low quality macaroni or rice soup. They rarely see any meat."

Uzbekistan is a major cotton producer and the crop brings in vital hard currency for the chronically underdeveloped country.

Uzbekistan officially banned the use of child labour last year after some Western clothes retailers threatened to boycott Uzbek cotton if the practice did not end.

Recently, Uzbekistan has signed big contracts to sell cotton fibre to countries including China, Russia and Iran.