Written by Maja Przybyszewska
Imagine. Imagine children going to school daily and learning to read and write. Imagine young girls and boys sitting in the classroom and loudly repeating the alphabet or the multiplication table. Imagine their smiles and the opportunities education gives to all of us. But now, when you take a closer look, you realise. Realise that the classroom is small and dilapidated, and school supplies are lacking. Realise that more than half of the children do not know how to read or write. And you realise that most children are absent because they must work on the cocoa farms to help their parents.
When you eat chocolate, do you ever wonder how it was produced or who was involved in the process? Are the working conditions appropriate? What if it is forced labour? Before buying any product and supporting particular practices, these questions should come to our minds. By reflecting on that, we show our support for fair trade and protecting fundamental human rights, such as the right to education.
In Côte d’Ivoire, over 40% of the world’s cocoa production is produced, and the practice of child labour is unfortunately commonplace. In 2013, an estimated 1.4 million children, of which 49% worked in the agriculture sector (UNICEF, 2019).
Therefore, this article aims to raise awareness about the educational challenges in Côte d’Ivoire. Why this country? The motivation is the prolonged issue of child labour and the state’s role in the global production of cocoa. Moreover, this piece will focus on the following matters: providing a brief history of the political instability in the country that negatively affects schooling, describing the cocoa child labour, discussing the current educational picture in the country and looking for possible solutions for developing the education sector.
The brief history of political instability
Ivory Coast has suffered from several years of political instability and internal conflicts disrupting the country and changing the lives of generations. In brief, the state experienced two civil wars, in 2002 and 2011, and the instability was caused by constant tensions between two politicians with presidential ambitions, Laurent Gbagbo from the Ivorian Popular Front and Alassane Quattara from the Rally of the Republicans party. The supporters of these parties were involved in violent fights with each other as they disagreed with the results of the elections. Moreover, during the demonstrations in 2000-2004, hundreds were killed, and the government was accused of human rights abuses. In the 2010 elections, Quattara won and rules to date.
Nevertheless, in 2011 the violence escalated, and the fights were fierce; over 3000 people lost their lives. The events drew the international community’s attention, and the decision to intertwine was made. Since 2011, Gbagbo has been in the custody of the International Criminal Court and was charged with crimes against humanity (Global Security, n.d.).
Consequently, these wars take a toll on civilians and affect children’s education. Even though a conflict ends, its dramatic repercussions influence the economy of the country and its society for the following years, for instance, increasing poverty and the spread of diseases. It should be noted that children become the victims of such conflicts because they are often recruited as soldiers or experience violence. Furthermore, the schools are usually destroyed, which stops further schooling as there is a lack of appropriate infrastructure. From an economic perspective, many families lose their financial resources and need help to ensure their children a decent education. In light of Idrissa Ouili’s research, children who were about to start school during the time of instability had a 10% lower chance of beginning their education. Moreover, many students experienced more than a year’s drop in their years of schooling due to the conflicts (Ouili, 2017). Considering all of these things, they illustrate the multidimensional challenges children and their teachers experience in their education path marked by violence.
Child labour in the cocoa industry
Another critical point is the issue of the high rates of child labour in the cocoa industry. The data show that over 40% of the world’s cocoa production comes from the Ivory Coast (Busquet, Bosma and Hummels, 2021). On the one hand, this means there is a labour demand for the workforce, and some parents instruct their children to work on family farms instead of going to school. On the other hand, the cocoa industry is so deeply integrated into the lives of the local communities that they consider child labour a regular part of their childhood and culture. Research made in 2012-2015 by the ILO (2015) presents that
girls and boys are at high risk and the dangers of working in the cocoa industry due to reinforcing community-based and institutional mechanisms.
Furthermore, studies reveal that in West Africa, the levels of child labour in cocoa production have increased between 2008 and 2014 to 2 million children aged from 5 to 17 years old (Busquet, Bosma and Hummels, 2021). In addition, studies from 2018 indicate that around 90% of minors perform hazardous work, which means working with sharp tools, for example, a machete, clearing land, using agrochemicals, and carrying heavy items (Busquet, Bosma and Hummels, 2021). In a series of interviews with the farmers and their families, the importance of education is hardly discussed due to a belief that farming is an experience from
which children are assumed to benefit in their future lives and careers (Busquet, Bosma and Hummels, 2021).
In other words, many children cannot fully enjoy educational opportunities because they have to help on farms or split their time between school and demanding physical work. These activities negatively impact their lives as their intellectual growth is stalling, and a lack of basic literacy skills will cause them concerns in looking for job prospects in the future labour market.
Another substantial aspect is the child’s right to education. Children and youth in Ivory Coast should not be excluded from achieving quality education because of economic or cultural reasons. Moreover, the state has an obligation to respect, protect, and fulfil the right to education under the Convention against Discrimination in Education (UNESCO, n.d. ). Therefore, the country has to take more conclusive and adequate actions to increase children’s enrollment in schools and end child labour practices.
Current educational picture
The educational picture in Ivory Coast is unfortunately upsetting. Even though the government spends more money on education compared to other sub-Saharan African countries, the results are not satisfactory as there are still immense inequalities between rural and urban regions and basic literacy skills are continually neglected (Finch, Wolf and Lichand, 2022). According to a report by the OECD in 2015, every second young person is illiterate, and more than half of children cannot read and write, with the majority of girls, about 60% (OECD, n.d.).
However, on the bright side, in 2016, the government ruled on making school compulsory and accessible for all children aged 6 to 16 and increased the full-time employment age from 14 to 16. In addition, the decision was preceded by an awareness-raising campaign about child trafficking, exploitation, and hazardous work (The Guardian, 2022).
Moreover, international organisations, such as UNICEF, have greatly helped by strengthening the educational infrastructure and organising extra classes for children. Some initiatives focused primarily on girls because of persisting gender inequality in schooling and high dropping-out rates.
In short, education is crucial for the children’s well-being and the country’s further development. Among farmers, there is no understanding of long-term and harmful consequences, which means disrupting the healthy development of many youths and producing future generations of the unskilled workforce in the national economy. From an economic perspective, circumstances negatively affecting schooling, political instability, or child labour can hamper the state’s economic growth. The primary aim of the government of Côte d’Ivoire should be the protection of children and securing their education.
First, the authorities should pay more attention to early childhood education and effectively raise societal awareness. Free and early schooling may incentivise parents to send their children to school instead of the cocoa fields. Also, appropriate monitoring tools and transparent allocation of funds would increase the educational standards in the country.
Secondly, providing the infrastructure. After years of conflicts, many schools were destroyed, and many continue to be ramshackle buildings. Rebuilding and adequately equipping them would allow students and teachers to enjoy learning and teaching much more.
Lastly, as society strongly supports the educational value of work, it would be an excellent initiative to open more vocational centres. Such centres help maintain the primary education path and equip youths with practical skills and abilities needed for the changing labour market.
The consequences of civil wars, the deeply rooted cultural importance of work, and the child labour in the cocoa industry influence education in the Ivory Coast. With the support of international organisations and improved governmental policies, hundreds of Ivorian children could spend more time learning and playing instead of working.
But what can we do about it? Some may say that we do not have any power. Yet, we often forget that we are the consumers and the power is literally in our hands. The next time you buy chocolate, look for a “FAIRTRADE” Mark. Buying those products means safer working conditions for many children.
Every child deserves a safe childhood and quality education.
Busquet, Milande, Niels Bosma, and Harry Hummels. 2021. “A Multidimensional Perspective on Child Labor in the Value Chain: The Case of the Cocoa Value Chain in West Africa.” World Development 146: 105601.
Finch, Jenna E, Sharon Wolf, and Guilherme Lichand. 2022. “Executive Functions, Motivation, and Children’s Academic Development in Côte d’Ivoire.” Developmental Psychology 58, no. 12: 2287–2301
Global Security. n.d. “Ivory Coast Conflict.” Accessed April 6, 2023. https://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/war/ivory-coast.htm?utm_content=cmp-true.
ILO. 2015. “Creating a Protective Environment for Children in Cocoa-Growing Communities.” Accessed April 6, 2023. https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—dgreports/—exrel/documents/publication/wcms_409587.pdf.
OECD. n.d. “Key Issues affecting Youth in Côte d’Ivoire.” Accessed April 6, 2023. https://www.oecd.org/countries/cotedivoire/youth-issues-in-cote-ivoire.htm.
Ouili, Idrissa. 2017. “Armed Conflicts, Children’s Education and Mortality: New Evidence from Ivory Coast.” Journal of Family and Economic Issues 38, no. 2: 163–83.
The Guardian. 2022. “How Ivory Coast is winning the fight to keep its children out of the cocoa fields.” Accessed April 6, 2023. https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2022/dec/27/how-ivory-coast-is-winning-the-fight-to-keep-its-children-out-of-the-cocoa-fields.
UNESCO. n.d. “State obligations and responsibilities on the right to education.” Accessed April 6, 2023. https://www.unesco.org/en/right-education/state-obligations-responsibilities?hub=70224.
UNESCO. n.d. “Convention against Discrimination in Education.” Accessed April 6, 2023. https://www.unesco.org/en/legal-affairs/convention-against-discrimination-education#item-3.
UNICEF. 2019. “Promoting the Rights of children in the Cocoa Producing Areas in Côte d’Ivoire.” Accessed April 6, 2023. https://open.unicef.org/sites/transparency/files/2020-06/Cote-d-Ivoire-TP5-2018.pdf.