Xinjiang Work-Study Programs Continue; Cotton-Picking Activities Limited
The Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) government continued this year to force students to participate in controversial "work-study" programs, but have restricted students in junior high school and lower grades from participating in cotton-picking activities. According to a September 19 Tianshan Net article, the XUAR Department of Education issued a circular this fall stopping all students enrolled in the state's compulsory nine years of elementary and junior high school education from picking cotton in work-study programs.
The Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) government continued this year to force students to participate in controversial "work-study" programs, but have restricted students in junior high school and lower grades from participating in cotton-picking activities. According to a September 19 Tianshan Net article, the XUAR Department of Education issued a circular this fall stopping all students enrolled in the state's compulsory nine years of elementary and junior high school education from picking cotton in work-study programs. The XUAR government discontinued this form of work-study because central government funding for rural compulsory education, which doubled in 2008 over the previous year, meets XUAR schools' funding needs, according to the report. As previously noted by the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, work-study programs in the XUAR have been used to generate income for local schools and meet local harvesting quotas. As the CECC reported in 2006, XUAR authorities prohibited elementary school students from picking cotton starting in 2006, but did not extend the prohibition to junior high school students. Overall participation in work-study programs to pick cotton reportedly decreased in 2007. Based on information in the Tianshan Net report, the fall circular appears to leave intact other forms of work-study activities for elementary and junior high school students. The fall circular appears to leave high school, college, and technical school students to continue picking cotton in work-study programs.
Although the Tianshan Net article reported that local governments are to strictly implement the circular, its effectiveness is unclear, as at least one city in the XUAR is still making junior high school students pick cotton this year, according to information posted October 9 and 10 on a government message board in Wusu city, Tarbaghatay district. In response to a parent's complaint, the Wusu Education Bureau stated that the XUAR government permitted localities throughout the XUAR to mobilize junior high school students to help pick cotton because of a shortage of laborers. A parent in Wusu said that children in junior high school reportedly were being made to pick cotton for sixteen days, two days more than the fourteen days per school year allowed under general work-study programs, according to another message posted October 9 on the same message board. A circular issued September 16 by the Poskam (Zepu) County Education Bureau, in Kashgar district, called for local schools and education offices to strictly abide by the XUAR Education Department circular ending cotton-picking activities by elementary and junior high school students and did not mention at that time the shortage of cotton workers discussed later by the Wusu Education Bureau.
As the CECC has previously analyzed, the XUAR work-study programs contravene China's obligations as a State Party to the International Labor Organization Conventions 138 and 182 and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The prohibition on young students participating in cotton-picking activities alone does not bring China into compliance with these conventions because schools may still require students to work on other labor projects in work-study programs that are not an "integral part" of their courses of study, contravening Convention 138, and that expose them to physical harm. The Poskam circular anticipates the risk of injury to students in work-study programs by requiring schools to have accident insurance and implementing accident-reporting requirements.
For additional information on work-study programs, see Section II-Worker Rights and Section IV-Xinjiang in the 2008 CECC Annual Report (via the Government Printing Office Web site).