Eastbourne students lobby in Brussels over trade

Bishop Bell pupils at the European Parliament in Brussels
Bishop Bell pupils at the European Parliament in Brussels

STUDENTS from Eastbourne descended upon the European Parliament recently to demand politicians do more to protect children in Uzbekistan from slavery.

Five year ten pupils from Bishop Bell joined representatives from Anti-Slavery International in Brussels on Wednesday, December 7.

They were in the Belgian capital to deliver a 10,000-name petition to the president of the European Union.

It calls for an end to the current European Union preferential trade tariffs for Uzbekistan until the former Soviet republic ends the practice of forcing hundreds of thousands of school children to help pick its annual cotton harvest.

The politically-minded youngsters were invited to the hot seat of European decision making by Catherine Bearder, one of the south east’s MEPs.

She responded after being inundated with requests from people in her consituency who wanted to see her lobby for changes.

Uzbekistan is the third largest exporter of cotton in the world and much of the cotton harvested by children in slavery makes its way to the European Union in the form of mass-produced clothing.

Children in Uzbekistan are rarely paid for their work and can be forced to pick up to 50kg of cotton a day.

According to protestors, they want the European Parliament to take action.

Shannon Harris, 14, was one of those moved to head to Brussels.

She said, “When I learnt what was going on in Uzbekistan, it was unbelievable.

“Students my age are supposed to be in school studying but are being forced to work in slavery picking cotton.

“Why is this still happening?”

Classmate John Feltham, also 14, added, “When I found out Uzbekistan’s cotton was being picked by children I was shocked they had no choice.

“I feel we should stop this now.”

Neil Pittman, head of the upper school at Bishop Bell, said, “After studying the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, our pupils were shocked to hear that Uzbekistani children were forced by their government to work during the cotton harvest.”