Tens of thousands of children work on Ghana’s cocoa plantations - often doing hazardous tasks when they should be at school - but change is coming.
Andrew Tagoe of the Ghana Agricultural Workers Union, speaking at a workshop organized by the International Labour Organization (ILO) earlier this year, said 186,000 children worked on Ghana’s cocoa farms. Apart from heavy lifting, they work with potentially dangerous chemicals or tools, are often unsupervised and are not given protective clothing.
But the government says it is making progress and “rescued” 6,100 children from cocoa farms in the past year and supported them to return to school.
Efforts to curb child labour on cocoa farms began in 2001 with the Harkin-Engel Protocol - an agreement, signed by cocoa and chocolate companies, to source cocoa grown and processed according to ILO child labour standards. While progress was initially criticized as too slow, the government and NGOs say tangible success can now be seen in Ghana.
A national programme for the elimination of the worst forms of child labour in cocoa production was launched in 2006, with results now apparent, according to Sam Atoquaye Quaye, Ghana’s child labour monitoring system coordinator with the programme. He said under this programme 12,000 children have been taken off cocoa farms, enrolled in school and provided with school supplies - over half of them in the last year. “Ghana is still not child labour free… But we have come far.”
The programme also educates parents and communities about appropriate tasks for children and the importance of schooling. “Community child protection committees” - teams of people who travel to cocoa-producing areas - are employed to spread the message, Quaye said. As 84 percent of children working on cocoa farms in Ghana live with their parents and another 14 percent with relatives, working with families is necessary.
Pressure exerted through international cocoa buyers appears to have been a factor in encouraging the government to take action. “Ghana’s cocoa is exported and so it is important to establish that cocoa produced from Ghana is not from child labour,” Quaye said, adding there were still permissible activities children could undertake on farms outside of school hours and that a framework had been established to distinguish between these activities and dangerous work which is not allowed.
Tony Lass, executive director of the non-profit International Cocoa Initiative (ICI), pointed to the successes in Ghana as a result of NGOs, cocoa and chocolate companies, and government working together. He said that while figures were hard to pin down it was estimated that “collective efforts have helped over one million children in Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire”. Ghana is the world’s second largest cocoa producer, after Côte d'Ivoire.
The government’s community education programme has certainly reached some farmers. “I have attended many workshops on child labour,” said G. C. K. Boa, a cocoa farmer in Twifo Praso, central Ghana. “I don’t even want to send a child to buy cigarettes for me,” he said, adding that all his children were in school.
However, Vincent Frimpong Manu, Ghana’s cocoa programme manager for the fair trade organization West Africa Fair Fruit, said that while gains have been made, he was cautious about claims of success. Just because a child is enrolled in school does not necessarily mean they are not working on a cocoa farm, he said. Although there was now a high level of awareness about the importance of sending children to school, if the parents still depended on their child for labour “there may be situations where the child is enrolled in school but attendance is quite low,” he added.
Lass agreed that while there was a high level of awareness about stopping hazardous forms of child labour - and some communities had even passed their own by-laws banning it - he said that awareness did not always solve the problem on its own.
Marisa Yoneyama from the World Cocoa Foundation, an NGO made up of companies involved in cocoa and chocolate industries, pointed out that root causes of child labour needed to be addressed as well. “Child labour is usually a symptom of wider problems, including poverty,” she said.
Although many of the same organizations operate in Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire and the Harkin-Engel Protocol applies to both, Lass said unrest in Côte d'Ivoire over the years had slowed progress, making it difficult for NGOs to operate.
The relatively well-developed infrastructure in Ghana also aids efforts to improve life on cocoa farms. Yoneyama pointed to CocoaLink - a text message service which sends information to help farmers increase yields and lift safety standards via SMS - as an example of a programme that could only work in a nation with a well-functioning mobile phone infrastructure.
Another difference is Ghana’s centralized marketing system which is good for business, making it easier for farmers to sell their produce and for buyers to be assured of high quality cocoa beans, according to Lass.
Despite the difficulties in Côte d'Ivoire, Lass emphasized that gains have still been made, and continue to be made, in both countries.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions