The world’s fifth largest cotton producer, Uzbekistan, is currently in the midst of a two-month-long harvest and, according to reports, a longstanding system of forced labor is again being used to gather the lucrative crop.

For years, children as young as seven years old were forced to work in the cotton fields during the annual sowing, weeding and harvest cycles, in order to fulfill government-set harvest quotas enforced on farmers and local administrators. Last year, coinciding with an observation mission from the United Nations, the number of children in the fields was drastically reduced. That progress now appears to have extended to this fall.

Yet rights groups are warning that teenagers – between 15 and 18 years of age – are still being taken out of school and made to work in the fields. Further, there has apparently been no change in the broader system of forced labor.

“The state-sanctioned system of forcing people to grow and pick cotton has not been changed,” Umida Niyazova, an Uzbek journalist and activist now with the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights, told MintPress News. “There has just been a shifting of the burden from small kids to older kids and adults.”

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