Authorities in Ivory Coast have rescued 137 children from being trafficked. The children would have been destined to become child labourers and prostitutes, according to the National Monitoring Committee (NMC), which fights child labour and trafficking in the West African nation.
Kouadio Yeboue Marcellin — a government official in Aboisso, a southeastern town which borders Ghana — said the rescued children are from Benin, Niger, Nigeria, Ghana, Togo, and Benin.
They were all aged between six and 17 years old.
“The Nigerian girls were destined for prostitution," Marcellin added, according to news agency AFP. Others were on their way to becoming manual labourers.
Child labour is rife in Ivory Coast according to Humanium, an international non-governmental organisation that works to protect children’s rights.
“Approximately one in three children in the Ivory Coast is forced to work in order to provide for themselves and their families,” says the organisation on its website.
It added: “There are more than 5,000 children working in the cocoa plantations, of which less than 1% are paid.”
Ivory Coast is one of the leading cocoa producers in the world, and supplies 41% of all the cocoa produced globally. Meanwhile, the country has a poverty rate of 46%.
The US-based Food Empowerment Project (FEP), which promotes ethical food choices, says that increasing demand for cocoa products, especially chocolate, has created demand for child labour.
“On average, cocoa farmers earn less than $2 per day, an income below the poverty line,” says FEP. “As a result, they often resort to the use of child labour to keep their prices competitive.”
FEP adds that most child labourers are aged between 12 and 16 and that girls make up 40% of all child labourers.
As well as being forced into labour, the children are also put in danger by the working conditions — with FEP stating that they typically start work at 6 a.m. and end in the evening.
Their tasks include using chainsaws to clear land, and machetes to open bean pods.
One former child labourer, Aly Diabate, told the organisation: "Some of the bags were taller than me. It took two people to put the bag on my head. And when you didn’t hurry, you were beaten.”
The operation that led to the rescuing of 137 children is part of on-going efforts by the government of Ivory Coast to fight child labour.
In 2018, the government developed a new National Plan of Action to increase efforts against trafficking, exploitation, and child labour.
Furthermore, the country’s First Lady Dominique Ouattara — who presides over the NMC — signed a memorandum of understanding in Feb. 2018 pledging to support research and other measures aimed at understanding the full scale of child labour and exploitation.