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1 May 2020

Nellie Peyton, Thomson Reuters Foundation

West African countries alert for child labour spike

Ivory Coast and Ghana should be on alert for a spike in child labor due to the coronavirus, experts said, with schools closed and monitors unable to access villages in cocoa harvest season. The two West African countries together produce about 65% of the world’s cocoa and child labor has been a longstanding problem in the sector, despite pledges from chocolate companies including Nestle and Hershey to reduce it. Fairtrade Africa said it had received reports of possible cases in Ivory Coast’s eastern and western regions in recent weeks and flagged them to the government.

“In normal circumstances children are already vulnerable, and now they are not going to school,” said Anne-Marie Yao, regional cocoa manager for Fairtrade Africa. “We don’t have access to those villages, we don’t know exactly what is happening, and we know that this is the mid-season harvesting period,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. They do not have staff on the ground because of the pandemic, and the shelters were rescued children are normally taken have closed, she added. More than 2 million children work in the cocoa sector in Ghana and Ivory Coast, an increase from 10 years ago, according to a draft of a U.S. government-sponsored report seen by Reuters this month.

…Teachers are often the first to spot child abuse, said Yao, who suggested the state could instruct them to somehow keep in touch with their students and not all leave the communities. Ivory Coast’s national anti-trafficking committee released a statement last week reminding parents that child labor is punishable by law. “The harvest season and the closing of schools must not be an excuse for violating children’s rights,” said Ivory Coast’s first lady Dominique Ouattara, who heads the committee.