Although the Turkmen government insists that protecting children is a priority, NBCentralAsia analysts say their basic rights are ignored and child labour is actively encouraged.
At a November 28 round-table meeting held to mark the 60th anniversary of the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, Turkmen officials said “the conditions are in place for our youngest citizens to have a full and happy life and to develop in harmony”.
Turkmenistan – which is a signatory to UN Convention on the Rights of the Child – passed laws in 2002 and 2005 prohibiting the employment of children under 16 years and regulating children’s right to protection from exploitation.
Despite this, NBCentralAsia analysts say the Turkmen authorities continue to cover up the real problems affecting young people: the lack of protection from exploitative work, forced labour, restricted access to pre-school education, and poor-quality schooling.
“Child labour is used to the full,” said one analyst. “Come to any marketplace in any town, and you will be struck with how many children are there trading, even though they should be in school.”
Tadjigul Begmedova, the head of the Turkmen Helsinki Fund, a human rights group based abroad, said it is common practice for children in the seventh to ninth grades [the final three years of schooling] to be sent out to nearby cotton fields after attending the first two lessons of the day, and they then have to work there until evening. In rural schools, only pupils in the first to third grades attend classes [in harvest season] - all the rest are out working in the fields. Begmedova said teachers from three regions of Turkmenistan had confirmed that this was the case.
“The authorities present the use of child labour as if it just means children helping out after lessons have finished,” she added.
(News Briefing Central Asia draws comment and analysis from a broad range of political observers across the region.)