On August 18, in the Angar district of the Surxondaryo region in Uzbekistan, heads of mahallas and of the district forced women to participate in khashar [trans. – community cleaning day], threatening them with losing their child benefits. Some of these women told Radio Ozodlik reporters that they had to clean the streets when it was particularly hot outside in order to keep their child benefits of less than $50 US.

One of the women, a mother of six, from the village of  Akhunbabayev, told an Ozodlik reporter:

“I have six children. I left my youngest with their elder siblings and took only two of my children who attend school with me to clean the streets. Together we cleaned the streets of camel thorns. I have been using a hoe the whole day. I don’t have any other options other than participating in cleaning. I couldn’t refuse to participate in public khashar,” said the woman.

A resident of Akhunbabayev, Erkin Gapparov, told Ozodlik that heads of mahallas have forced women to participate in khashar threatening them with depriving them of child benefits if they refuse.

“Our women receive child benefits for children under the age of two. The heads of mahallas in the Angar district threatened women with suspending child benefits if they didn’t participate in field works. However, the heads of mahallas actually have no right to cut monthly childcare allowances. Despite this, women obey their orders so that they’re not deprived of these allowances. Some of them go to the fields with their small children and work with a hoe. While the women are working, their children are running around near a main road. None of the officials thinks about the safety of the children who could end up under the wheels of a passing vehicle”, said Erkin Gapparov.

In conversation with our reporter, the head of the village of Akhunbabayev, Kurban Jumanazarov, confirmed the information about women participating in public khashar but denied the claims of our interviewees about local authorities’ threats to cut child benefits.

“This is khashar, that’s why we got all our residents to clean the streets. We asked for help from women with children as well. After all, everybody must participate in khashar. But I haven’t threatened anyone with cutting child benefits since I don’t have the right to do that”, the head of the village claimed.

Local authorities have forced public sector employees, retirees, and housewives to participate in field works and beautification projects in various regions of Uzbekistan over the last few years.

Western countries and many international human rights organizations have criticized the practice and consider it forced labor.

Last week, the Prime Minister, Abdulla Aripov, claimed during a video conference on August 14, that khashar should not be equated with forced labor.

According to the head of the Uzbek government, the main objective of this event is to improve the level of ecological culture of citizens, especially the young ones.

“I am not saying that they should clean the city… In Europe, for example, small children are engaged in cleaning works so that they have an understanding that it is bad to litter, that they need to take care of nature from childhood on. It is necessary that our citizens participate in khashar with the same idea”, said the Prime Minister.

Translated from Russian.

The original article by Khurmat Babajanov was published on August 20 on the website of Radio Ozodlik.