By: Lane Johansen
Uzbekistan has long held the reputation as one of the worst human rights abusers in the world. Since his election in 2016, President Shavkat Mirziyoyev has sought to change this reputation, enacting numerous reforms to improve the country’s human rights record. Addressing the UN Human Rights Council on February 22, 2021, Mirziyoyev stated that “ensuring fundamental human rights and freedoms shall remain central in reforming Uzbekistan.”
On July 31, 2019, Mirziyoyev issued a presidential decree establishing the National Commission for Combating Human Trafficking and Forced Labor. In 2020, Uzbekistan adopted several laws designed to prevent human trafficking, including the “strengthening of measures of responsibility for child and forced labor.” In general, this legislation has effectively combatted the prevalence of human trafficking in Uzbekistan: in 2020, the Interior Ministry recorded 74 cases of human trafficking, down from 123 cases in 2018 and 574 cases in 2012.
While the number of human trafficking–related crimes has decreased significantly, the share of baby trafficking continues to rise and remains a serious problem in Uzbekistan. In January 2021, the Interior Ministry reported that 185 newborns were sold over the past four years. In a surprisingly candid acknowledgement of the Uzbek government’s weak oversight capabilities, Tanzil Narbayeva, the head of the Senate and chairwoman of the human trafficking commission, remarked that there is no unity between government agencies in the fight against child trafficking and that penalties for such crimes remain far too low.
Narbayeva specified the primary reasons for baby trafficking in Uzbekistan: of the women who sold their children, 17% did so to hide the child from their parents, 31% because of a difficult social situation, and 52% for financial gain. Interior Ministry representative Nargiza Khojiboyeva noted that the majority of babies are sold by unmarried girls and emphasized the social vulnerability of and lack of material support for these mothers.
Uzbekistan remained on the Tier 2 Watch List of the US State Department 2020 Trafficking in Persons Report for the third year in a row, narrowly avoiding a downgrade to Tier 3. The report contains recommendations for further reforms to effectively combat human trafficking in Uzbekistan. If President Mirziyoyev hopes to keep his promise to ensure that human rights and freedom remain central to reform, he must strengthen efforts to eliminate trafficking in Uzbekistan – including addressing the underlying social issues partially responsible for the persistence of baby trafficking in the country.