Ivory Coast counts on new schools to cut child labour in cocoa sector
28 April 2016, 16:32
Abidjan – "At five years old, I went to work
in the fields with my dad. Today, my children go to school," said Peter, a
cocoa farmer in Bonikro in the centre of Ivory Coast.
Peter is one of a generation of farmers at the
heart of a drive to keep the country's children in school and away from its
Ivory Coast, the world's largest cocoa producer,
has struggled to prevent children working in the cocoa sector, long an accepted
practice in the countryside.
The industry, which accounts for 15 percent of GDP
and more than 50% of export receipts as well as two thirds of the country's
jobs, is absolutely vital to the country's economic welfare, according to the
But criticism of its record on child labour by
consumers and buyers has in the past threatened to tarnish cocoa from the Ivory
Coast and undermine its main export, prompting authorities to act.
The government's scheme to get children off the
plantations and into school, launched in 2011, is as much about improving the
country's image overseas as it is about protecting its young people.
Sylvie Patricia Yao, the leader of the campaign and
chief of staff to the country's first lady, said that education would help
limit child exploitation in the cocoa sector.
"[It] remains for us the alternative and the
most effective response in the long-term fight against child labour," she
In 2011, the west African country announced plans
to spend almost $22.4m between 2015-2017 to reduce the number of minors working
on plantations by 30% by 2017 and 70% by 2020.
Since 2011, 17 829 classrooms have been built or
restored, according to the National Monitoring Committee (CNS), which is
charged with overseeing the government's anti-child labour efforts.
It is hoped that the plan will break the cycle of
children following their parents into the fields at a young age.
Djouha Gneprou, a cocoa planter in Goboue in the
country's west, is involved with a school opened by global food giant Nestle in
"Once the child is in school, they won't have
time to be in the field so they can't do the heavy work," he told AFP.
Despite the scheme, recent figures highlight the
challenges in the battle.
'Slavery and exploitation'
Between 300 000 and one million children are still
estimated to work in the sector, according to a report by the International
Cocoa Initiative (ICI), an organisation created by the chocolate industry to
fight the exploitation of minors.
Some 4 000 child victims of "slavery and
exploitation" were removed from cocoa plantations in Ivory Coast between
2012 and 2014, according to authorities.
Whether paid or unpaid, children often come from
Ivory Coast's neighbour Burkina Faso, and are used to carry heavy loads, fell
trees and spray crops with pesticides.
Nestle, the world's largest food company and a
major consumer of Ivory Coast cocoa, has previously faced criticism from
pressure groups for profiting from child labour.
In 2012 Nestle joined the fight against the problem
with an information campaign and school construction programme in the areas
where it works most.
The company has built 40 schools in four years,
according to Nestle-Ivory Coast's sustainability projects coordinator, Omaro
In Goboue, the small Nestle-sponsored school has
changed the lives of the residents in this town dependent on cocoa production.
"More and more, we send the children to
school," said Gneprou.
Before 2013, the town's children walked 8km every
day to reach the school in a neighbouring village.
"It was difficult. The youngest children were
unable to go to school because the road is very long," said Jean Oulai, a
cocoa farmer in his 60s and father of six children.
His youngest son, Oulai, 10, is now in his second
year of studies at the town's school.
The modest building with three classrooms, located
at the entrance to the village, has become a victim of its own success,
struggling to accommodate its 224 students aged between six and 10.
"The first year I effectively had a record
with 80 students in the first grade," said headteacher Denis Kouakou
Angoua, who spoke in the school's courtyard overlooking the very cocoa fields
where his pupils would once have been destined to work from a young age.
"Africans believe that a child is someone who
will replace them tomorrow. So they want the child to learn the same work that
they did. That's why they take their children with them to the fields,"
said one cocoa planter.
But now the law bans the custom and punishes
As many as 23 people were convicted, of whom 18
were jailed, for child labour offences between 2012 and 2014, according to
Cocoa farmer Peter takes the threat of imprisonment
"It's finished, we don't send children to the
fields anymore. The government said that it's forbidden and that if we do it
then it's prison," he said.