KYRGYZSTAN . The Project on Eliminating Child Labour in Tobacco Growing: about 3 000 children freed from work, the micro credits helping families to eke out

On December 23 2009 in Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan) took place the Working Group meeting on the elimination of child labour in tobacco growing. The meeting was attended by the representatives of agricultural workers and healthcare workers unions, Solidarity Center (AFL-CIO), Kyrgyz Tamekisi state joint-stock tobacco company, the representative of Kyrgyzstan Ombudsman’ office, NGO “Save The Children”, ILO/IPEC and IUF. The members of the Working Group have been briefed on the results of the second phase of the project and discussed the plans for the third phase.

The ECLT project (Eliminating Child Labour in Tobacco Growing) in Kyrgyzstan was launched in 2005 in Alabuka district of Jalalabad region and in No’okat district of Osh region of the country. Its purpose is to create a sustainable mechanism for eliminating child labour in tobacco growing. The work has been underway to raise awareness across the local communities about the negative effect of work on children and grant micro credits to raise the level of livelihoods for the families, as poverty has been one of the key drivers of using child labour.

Project team members held awareness rising meetings about the issue of child labour in tobacco growing in each village of the two districts involved. Representatives of the education establishments, mainly teachers from the local schools, and representatives of rural healthcare committees, set up under the auspices of the Red Cross, were involved in the project. Children themselves (pupils from schools, members of school parliaments) took part too. Throughout the school year, children provided a clarification outreach towards their peers and their parents in order to convince them not to force their children to work. In the villages covered by the project, the school attendance grew by 8.5% and the quality of the knowledge (judged by the pupils’ marks) increased by 5%. Along with that, the project, using its funds, distributed a material aid among 52 orphans.

Soft good-faith micro credits were granted to the poorer farmers, who united into groups of 5 to 8 families. In 2009, a total of 40 such mutual-aid groups received micro credits. This accounted for 280 families. Each family received 300 US dollars at 10% interest rate per annum, whereas commercial banks offered credits at 28% interest rate per annum. The main condition for getting the micro credit was – NOT to use child labour. The micro credits were granted to the mutual-aid groups, not to individual families. This led to a collective responsibility of the farmers and made sure that all credits would be repaid. The members of the mutual-aid groups controlled each other, that no member uses child labour so the team would not be denied the loan. When any group member fails to harvest on time, the other participants help the member using the ashar method, when all members harvest first one land plot then move to the other member’s plot and so on.

Since 2005, a total of 2,932 children (of which 47% are girls), aged 6 to 18, representing 956 of the families covered by the micro credits project, were withdrawn from tobacco fields. In 2009, of the 280 families that took part on the project, 109 families finally walked over the poverty line and 171 families improved its economical situation, passing from the category of ‘extremely poor’ to the category of ‘poor’.

All the mutual-aid groups that received micro credits create additionally their own savings and make monthly deposits. The groups with the smallest funds have saved 200 US dollars whereas the groups that embarked on the project from the very beginning have accumulated up to 3,500 US dollars of cash. Members of two mutual-aid groups – 20 people – set up an agricultural cooperative farm called Kut Keldi. They plan to pool together their funds, attract investment, buy agricultural machines to work the fields and reduce manual labour needs.

In the districts covered by the project, on the urge of farmers and social workers, people began creating associations of families, which work under the same principles under which the mutual-aid groups do. They also create their own funds for a joint activity and for improving the living standards. And what is important, these people have realized how harmful the work for children could be and stopped using their children for labour.

Members of Working Group also discussed the plan of activities for the third phase of the project and the involvement of mass media in the work on eliminating child labour.