With the Kyrgyz school year finished, many children are away at Soviet-era summer camps. But many other school
children, especially from poorer families, have to work in order to provide support for their families or to earn money to pay for the forthcoming school year. In Kyrgyzstan, in addition to textbooks, families have to pay for the upkeep of the school as well as many other expenses associated with education.
The majority of such children are from migrant labour families, who frequently come to the capital Bishkek in search of work. Almost all of such children express a desire to attend school but almost all of them also have to work if they are to do so. Many children are important contributors to family budgets in this poor republic with few natural resources. "Focus group research indicates that, in some cases, 30 percent of the family budget is earned by children," according to Mira Itikeeva,
director of the Centre for the Protection of Children, a local NGO working with child labourers in the capital.
"I do not know what a summer camp for children is, can you explain it to me?" asked an 11-year-old known as Talant, who works cleaning shoes on the streets of Bishkek. He earns 50-80 soms (about US .1 to 1.7) per day. Each month, along with his working sisters, he has to send money to his parents in the desperately poor southern province of Batken. Despite the
privations, Talant makes just enough to attend school. He is among thousands of children who sell cigarettes, bubble gum, newspapers and other commodities on the streets or sweat pushing handcarts in bazaars. There are also cases in which children have been the object of human trafficking and sexual exploitation.
Another boy, 12-year-old Manas, also works as a cart pusher at the bustling Osh bazaar in Bishkek. One of six children, his parents moved to the capital from the eastern province of Isyk-Kyl to improve their economic condition. "There is no difficulty in my job. I earn 100-150 soms (about .2 to 3.3) per day, but I am very afraid of police raids. They
take children like me and send us to prison. They usually take a bribe from us. Either my dad or elder sister brings money to them."
The majority of urban child labourers in Kyrgyzstan sell cheap goods or work in markets and roadside small shops, while children in rural areas tend to work on plantations and commercial tobacco farms. Other children herd cattle or work in unregulated gold mines. "For example in Jal-abad [province], mining is one of the few sources of income for families. In
mining, children earn 50-70 soms [US .2- 1.8] per day," Migriguil Ablezova, of the Sociology Department at the American University of Central Asia, who researches child poverty, told IRIN. Death and injury among child miners are common.
"If children in the south are exposed to different diseases and danger due to working, children in Bishkek are under huge physiological pressure and in real danger, because wherever adults work, children work too," Ainura Sagynbaeva, head of SIAR-Bishkek, an organisation that has researched child labour for the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the
Kyrgyzstan Federation of Unions, told IRIN.
Poverty remains the main factor behind the rise in child labour in Kyrgyzstan. Average monthly salaries are very low at between 800-1000 soms (about -22), and as a result many people put their children to work to make ends meet. Young women are often found working the streets as prostitutes.
The UN children's organisation UNICEF said it was supporting several projects in Kyrgyzstan working to reduce child labour. UNICEF is striving to improve children's access to schools as well as promoting the fundamental rights of children. "We are trying to prevent child labour and the main idea is to promote education, and through education to realise the fundamental rights of children. Next year UNICEF starts a new five-year programme and we want to have more long-term projects for
children," Gulsana Turusbekova, programme coordinator for UNICEF in Bishkek, said.
The official response to the problem is mixed. "I was shocked when I heard one government official remark that it is good that children work, because they are learning how to live. We need more information campaigns and we have to work with parents to change people's minds," Sagynbaeva said. [Source: IRIN]
Posted on 2004-07-28