• Nothing can beat child labor faster and has more benefits to the children than education, and Ivory Coast knows this too well as it has been constructing more schools in a bid to avert child labor on its cocoa farms.

    The argument has also been backed by the International Cocoa Initiative (ICI) which signed an agreement last week with the Ivorian government. The pact will see to it that support given to child workers is improved, children living in cocoa-growing communities are protected and new primary schools are constructed.

    "Education offers the best opportunity for children in Ivory Coast to break the cycle of poverty," Euphrasie Aka, the ICI's regional representative, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

    "Their parents never had any alternative or the chance to do anything but work in cocoa, but these children do."

    According to Aka ICI’s main priority is to encourage community-led efforts to identify children at risk or in need, protect them and improve their lives.

    Since 2011 when President Alassane Ouattara took over leadership in the West African country, which grows about 40 percent of the global cocoa supply, has seen improvement in addressing the country’s child labor menace. The government, in the guidance of the country’s First Lady, Dominique Ouattara, introduced $22 million scheme to reduce the number of minors working on cocoa plantations by 70 percent by 2020 and enroll many children into school.

    For the past five years, the First Lady has made eradicating child labor in cocoa her “primary commitment” in a country where more than one million children- some as young as five- according to reports are still estimated to work in the cocoa industry.

    A report from Tulane University indicated that these children were involved in carrying heavy loads, spraying pesticides and felling trees using sharp tools, things that are highly dangerous to the growing children.

    Despite efforts employed to improve infrastructure in rural areas since the 2011 civil war, which left children with minimal options, experts say the number of children who worked in cocoa production surged by 51 percent to 1.3 million in 2014 from 2008.

    According to UN children agency (UNICEF), four in every 10 children of primary school age in the country are out of school, while less than half of young people (15-24) are literate.

    But the government still continues to improve education and rescue young children by building or renovating schools. Since 2011, the Ivorian administration has restored or built 17,829 classrooms, according to the National Monitoring Committee (CNS), whose mandate is to oversee efforts to end child labor.

    “Education is the most effective response to combat the worst forms of child labor in a sustainable way,” said Mrs Ouattara, a leading supporter of ICI in a statement.

    Speaking to AFP, Djouha Gneprou, a cocoa planter in Goboue in the country’s west, who is also involved with a school opened by global food giant Nestle in 2013, appreciated the importance of school for the children.

    “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 said.

    There are many drivers of child labor including: “lack of information, lack of awareness regarding dangerous work, poverty and a lack of infrastructure in rural areas,” ICI West Africa representative Aka said.

    While the government’s efforts are commendable more needs to be done because even after the 2020 target is achieved, about 250 thousand children would still be at risk working in cocoa farms for global companies with pay or without pay.

    Image credit: AFP / by Evelyne Aka