Ivory Coast police rescue 11 children working on cocoa farms

ABIDJAN (Reuters) - Police on Wednesday rescued 11 children and two teenagers working on cocoa plantations in southwestern Ivory Coast and arrested three farmers on suspicion of people trafficking, the police commissioner said.

Child labour increased in the world’s top cocoa producer during the coronavirus lockdown, according to a report in June by the Swiss-based International Cocoa Initiative (ICI).

“We conducted this operation this morning in the two major cocoa-producing cities ... and arrested the farmers who were employing them in their fields,” police commissioner Luc Zaka said.

The children were shelling cocoa pods in a field near approximately 20 adults, Zaka said. Initially planned for May and June, the operation was postponed because of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The Ivorian government introduced restrictions on March 16, including closing schools and partially sealing its external borders. Most of those measures have now been lifted.

In December last year Ivorian police rescued more than a hundred children from cocoa plantations during a similar operation in the east of the country.

More than one million children work illegally on cocoa plantations in the west African country, a figure that has been rising steadily over the last decade, according to charities working in the sector.

In March the police received more resources and opened six operational centres in the main cocoa producing regions to better combat child trafficking and labour.

“Now that we have more means, we can deploy faster to all corners and carry out these kinds of operations,” Zaka said.

Reporting by Ange Aboa; Writing by Hereward Holland; editing by Grant McCool