Despite our best intentions, we cannot tackle child labor by focusing solely on the issue itself. Child labor does not occur in a vacuum because it is enabled and caused by multiple socio-economic and cultural factors which render certain children at-risk. After talking with families and children in numerous cocoa-growing communities in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, and discussing the issues with key government, corporate, and NGO stakeholders in both countries, I’ve come to the conclusion that a child-centered approach, one that is focused on the holistic well-being of children, is the only sustainable way to address child labor.
Responding to child labor in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana must be about more than raising awareness and taking a compliance-driven approach, which can often focus too narrowly on the issue without addressing root enablers. It’s crucial to also address the broader problems and work to enable every child to grow up in an environment safe from all forms of harm, and with access to education, healthcare, clean water, and sanitation. It is also important to recognize that cocoa farmers and their families care deeply about their children and the future they promise. They have an inherent desire to invest in the education of their children, not only formally through schools, but also informally in cocoa and other agricultural cultivation. This is why Cocoa Life’s innovative framework brings much-needed hope, attention, and resources to the issue.
For example, evidence highlights that children who regularly attend school are decreasingly involved in child labor in cocoa. Consequently, access to good quality education is a highly important factor in tackling child labor. One obstacle to accessing education in Côte d’Ivoire is a lack of birth certificates. Without them, children can be turned down upon school enrollment or prevented from registering for school exams. Children without birth certificates can also face ongoing challenges in acquiring other services and benefits for registered citizens, rendering them more vulnerable to child labor. It can be a long and arduous administrative process to acquire these certificates. Cocoa Life partners with CARE International to help school-age children through the process and as a result, hundreds of children have acquired birth certificates. Just this one formal document can make such a big impact.
A community-development response, with child well-being at its heart, builds on and strengthens existing support systems and infrastructure, such as education, social protection and health so that communities are empowered to adequately care for their children. This approach, which recognizes that every child needs a safe environment to grow and thrive, is the sustainable way forward.
The executive summary and full report of the Embode assessment on Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire can be downloaded in the library.
Please read also the blog between Cathy Pieters & Aidan McQuade on the publication of the reports.