UnNews:Uzbek silk spun with child labor

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29 August 2010

Silk
This innocent fabric shows no hint that it was produced through the misery of child exploitation.

KOKAND, Uzbekistan -- Fifteen-year-old Dilorom Nishanova has been working 20-hour days growing silkworms since she was 8. The poor, benighted youth does not even know of a better way. "Children everywhere help their parents with the chores, don't they?" she says, her innocent brown eyes gleaming brightly.

Not so, say child-rights activists. Dilorom and other children should be in government schools, learning how to fill out forms, masturbate, and feel bad about their country's past. School attendance also fosters a sense of community, except for a few bad eggs who can be knocked down with Ritalin. These activists say working in the fields, by comparison, is abusive.

And the 25-day silk growing season falls in May, in direct conflict with final exams. Wide participation in these exams shows that Uzbekistan is a modern and well-educated country.

Old habits die hard, however. The very name of this town means "child slavery" in the inscrutable Uzbek language. Dilorom's emaciated father, Adkham, farms 10 acres here. The post-Soviet government gives him silkworm eggs, though it has been straggling on giving him title to the "privatized" farm, or payment for the 2006 harvest. After the silk is delivered, "All we have left is the mulberry trees for firewood," he says. That means no one eats for the rest of the year, a state of affairs this reporter finds shocking.

So does Ganikhon Mamatkhonov, a rights activist who investigated many cases of abuse. "Silk farming opens an annual season of forced labor and abuse," he says. In contrast, Kakhhor Yavkashtiyev of the country's Agriculture Ministry, says "Children are not involved, only adults are. You must be thinking of Kyrgyzstan. Follow that road a few miles. Right past the checkpoint. You'll get there."

But child labor in Uzbekistan and elsewhere has been widely documented, and U.S. companies like Wal-mart refuse to stock Uzbek silk. "That's okay," says Dilorom. "Sewing on 'Made in U.S.' labels is how we keep my 5-year-old sister busy."

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