Save the Children Cote d’Ivoire from Child Labour!

Picture: Change.org

As part of the fulfilment of its 2019 work plan, the Pan-African Parliament Committee on Health, Labour and Social Affairs undertook a fact-finding mission to Cote d’Ivoire to assess the legal framework on the protection of children’s rights against exploitation in mining areas and the actual implementation of such framework.

The Committee was stirred to action after reports emerged that in 2016, research found at least 21.6% of children aged 5 - 17 were doing hazardous work in the country. These activities include crushing and transporting stones, blasting rocks, working underground, and screening and extracting gold with mercury and cyanide.

These types of dangerous work affect 1 622 140 out of the 2 213 708 children, translating into 73.3%. The research also found that more than half of these children fend for the family while a third work to provide for themselves.

Hon. Aurelien-Simplice ZINGAS, Chairperson of the PAP Committee on Health, Labour and Social Affairs presented the Committee’s findings to the PAP Plenary at the Third Ordinary Session of the Fifth Parliament. Hon. Zingas informed African Legislators that Cote d’Ivoire found itself hosting many foreign nationals who flee economic crises in their countries.

“The fact that children are economically occupied is an increasingly worrisome situation in Cote D’Ivoire. On account of its geographical location in the West African sub-region, according to a study carried out by its Ministry of Employment and Vocational training, the country has one of the highest rates of foreign nationals mainly from Mali and Burkina Faso. These foreigners are attracted not only by cocoa cultivation, but also by illegal gold panning,” said Hon Zingas.

He said Cote d’Ivoire has in place policies on child labour, in particular; the 2010 Joint Action Declaration to support the implementation of the Harkin-Engel Protocol. The Cote d’Ivoire government has also initiated cooperation agreements in the West African region with Ghana and Burkina Faso and has a National Policy on Child Protection. However, the mission found that Cote d’Ivoire’s fragile social situation over the past twenty years precipitated the springing up of clandestine artisanal gold panners.

“The entire population is aware that the child’s place is in the classroom, but it remains powerless in the face of this phenomenon. Girls are exposed to prostitution and boys to drugs. In some areas, schools do no longer exist because of the lure of artisanal and clandestine gold panning. Compounding the problem is the fact that children are at the receiving end of social vices, including human sacrifices, which are rituals regularly practised at these sites,” said Hon Zingas.

During debate Members of Parliament from different countries proferred that child labour was not only peculiar to Cote D’Ivoire but was an issue to contend with for the entire continent.

“This is not only an issue for the said country but even in my country we have this problem. Africa is not bereft of good laws to prevent child labor, the question we should be asking ourselves as legislators is why we have not implemented these laws. The future of our children is being sacrificed while we standby and do nothing. As African Leaders, we talk more and do less, let us all go out and take the necessary steps to stop child labour in our countries,” said Hon. Segepoh Solomon THOMAS form Sierra Leone.

Hon. Bweupe Maxas Joel NG’ONGA from Zambia emphasized that the main causes of child labour are poverty and lack of free and compulsory education. “Let the whole African continent make deliberate steps to provide free and compulsory education, and also work to end poverty.”

“This is modern slavery and economic exploitation, therefore the onus to end child labour is on us as parliamentarians. As Member States, we have policies in place to protect children from such practices. These innocent children are the next generation and they should be given a chance to go to school, grow up and enter the labour market at the appropriate time,” said Hon. Bangirana Anifa KAWOOYA from Uganda.

It was reported that PAP is pushing for a joint effort amongst Parliamentarians, Government representatives and aid agencies that deal specifically with children, to free the children in Cote d’Ivoire. On the other hand, the Committee has recommended that to empower families, there is need to identify fertile land and redistribute it to families living in agricultural areas to improve living conditions.