DAKAR (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Building schools and educating children is the best way to stamp out child labor on Ivory Coast cocoa farms, a charity working in the world’s largest cocoa producer said on Thursday.
The International Cocoa Initiative (ICI) signed an agreement this week with the Ivorian government to improve the support given to child workers and the protection of children living in cocoa-growing communities, and to build new primary schools.
Ivory Coast introduced a $22 million scheme in 2011 to reduce the number of minors working on cocoa plantations by 70 percent by 2020, and to get more children into school.
More than one million children - some as young as five - are estimated to work in Ivory Coast’s cocoa industry, where they carry heavy loads, spray pesticides and fell trees using sharp tools, a report from Tulane University, New Orleans, said.
The cocoa industry accounts for 15 percent of the West African nation’s gross domestic product (GDP), half its exports and two-thirds of its jobs, according to the World Bank.
“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.”
Encouraging community-led efforts to identify children at risk or in need, protect them and improve their lives is a priority for the ICI, Aka added.
Efforts to reduce child labor in Ivory Coast have struggled since the 2011 civil war, which devastated infrastructure in rural areas and left few alternatives for children, experts say.
The number of children in cocoa-growing areas who had worked in cocoa production in the prior 12 months surged by 51 percent to 1.3 million in 2014 from 2008, the Tulane report found.
Four in 10 children of primary school age in Ivory Coast are out of school, while less than half of young people aged 15-24 are literate, according to the U.N. children’s agency (UNICEF).
The Ivorian government has built or restored 155 schools and 18,000 classrooms since 2011, according to the National Monitoring Committee which oversees efforts to end child labor.
“Education is the alternative and the most effective long-term response in the fight against child labor,” Dominique Ouattara, the wife of the president and a leading supporter of the ICI, said in a statement.