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Child Slavery in the Cocoa Production in West Africa

Updated on January 11, 2013

Is it Child Slavery or Child Labor, or Survival?

Recently I have seen CNN's "Freedom Project" stories and one in particular caught my attention: the "Child Slavery in Ivory Coast's Cocoa Production". I grew up in Ivory Coast, from my childhood all the way through High School. I left at 18 to return to the U.S. for college but my parents stayed until they retired in 2000. During my time in Ivory Coast, it was a peaceful place to live and was one of the most progressive countries in West Africa. In more recent years war has ripped the country apart as two major tribes fight for control.

The story aired by CNN highlights the Child slaves who work in the cocoa fields. I hate cild slavery and believe that children have the right to live in healthy homes, receive an education, and pursue their dreams. The reality though in Ivory Coast and many other African countries is that thousands of children have been orphaned through the war or by AIDS. Those who do have one surviving parent are faced with having to find their own food as the parents tries to provide for the younger children. Once a child is 9 or 10, they are expected to contribute to the family's sustenance, or at least provide for themselves. Many schools have been destroyed or are closed due to the war. Survival is the only objective for most children and young people.

Working in the cocoa farms is probably the best option many of these kids have. We have all seen how warring factions in Africa have enlisted children to fight for them, or others have resorted to stealing in order to survive. Is working on a cocoa farm in exchange for food such a terrible thing?

I also wonder if teens in the U.S. would benefit from having to work for what they want. I know that many do work, but many don't and have plenty of time to get involved in drugs or gangs, or feel that their live has no purpose. Work has always been a good thing for `teens as they learn responsibility and feel productive. There's a certain pride that comes from earning something with hard work.

Of course I would prefer that the young people of Ivory Coast be well fed by their parents, attend school, and dream big dreams of university studies and professional careers. The reality is so far removed from what most of us have experienced that it's hard to grasp. If we look at Maslow's hierachy of needs, we see that most of these kids and their families are at the first level of need-the basics of food and shelter. They must satisfy those basic needs before they will ever think of higher needs such as belonging, or self-actualization.

I get upset when I hear references to child slavery in the cocoa farms in Ivory Coast. The children can walk away at any time, but they have realized that work in exchange for food is better than starvation and the best way to survive in a country that has been torn apart by war. Spending their days with the adults who work in the farms is also a form of protection from the war and the thugs who would like to enlist them to fight.

I pray that peace will come to Ivory Coast and the country will be able to move ahead, provide jobs for the adults so the children will be well fed and back in school someday. Until then, we should admire the resilience and resourcefulness of these kids.


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    • debbiepinkston profile image

      Debbie Pinkston 6 years ago from Pereira, Colombia and NW Arkansas

      Pam, I wish every teen and adult in the U.S. could travel to a 3rd world country-but not for vacation in the posh areas of the country. Working as a volunteer with the local people is a great way to gain a better understanding of what life is like for the nationals. In Cuba, visitors are restricted to certain areas of the city that "look good", but are not encouraged to "look around". A Venezuelan friend of mine went to Cuba recently and visited in the home of some friends, and she got an eyefull-the truth of how people live under a dictatorship. I guess I would have to admit that if I'm prejudiced at all it would be at Americans who don't have a clue and speak about world issues without any first hand knowledge. One gentleman in California tried to tell me that president Hugo Chavez of Venezuela was the best thing that happened to the country. I lived there for 24 years, pre-Chavez and during Chavez's dictatorship. I left in 2009 and my friends who are still there say that shortages of basic necessities are continual, homocide continues to rise (25-30 murders each weekend in the city I lived in, Valencia), and the government continues to take over peoples businesses, properties and homes, that they worked for years to earn. I now live in Colombia and the feeling here is peaceful, tranquil, and optimistic. I'm not afraid to go out in public, day or night, and people have smiles on their faces.

      Didn't mean to get on my soapbox!

    • Pamela N Red profile image

      Pamela N Red 6 years ago from Oklahoma

      Americans have no idea what it is like to live in another country. It's easy to sit in our easy chairs and judge but until we have had to live that way we don't have a clue. Thank you for shedding light on this serious subject.

    • SantaCruz profile image

      SantaCruz 6 years ago from Santa Cruz, CA

      Debbie, I bet your readers would like a link or two about how they could help :-).

    • debbiepinkston profile image

      Debbie Pinkston 6 years ago from Pereira, Colombia and NW Arkansas

      Ideally the kids would receive pay for their work in addition to food and shelter, and they would be given the opportunity to attend school half the day. I hope that these changes will come about soon.

    • Billjordan profile image

      William Jordan 6 years ago from Houston

      your hub is well written nevertheless the matter of compensation must come into play why are the wages so low for the hours put in.Working is good for children I agree but so is education.

    • debbiepinkston profile image

      Debbie Pinkston 6 years ago from Pereira, Colombia and NW Arkansas

      Santa Cruz, thank you for your reply which reflects thought and insight. Yacou doesn't know how to leave because he doesn't know where he would go or what he would do to survive, other than working. The fear of the war and being recruited against his will is very real and he has no family to turn to. I totally agree that we should strive for what's best for all children no matter where they live or what their circumstances! I hope there will be a better alternative for these kids someday soon. As I stated in a reply to lovesbooks, sometimes the choices aren't between good and bad options, but between bad and worst. My heart goes out to these kids and I wish I could establish children's homes there where they could study, play, and have plenty of food. I have participated in the founding of 2 children's homes in Venezuela and now work with a Home in heart breaks for children and teens who have no one to care for them and I hope that my Hub didn't convey that I think it's ok for kids to work with a machete day after day to survive. I'm just saying that for many of these kids, it is their best option until something better is available. I pray that it will be soon.

    • debbiepinkston profile image

      Debbie Pinkston 6 years ago from Pereira, Colombia and NW Arkansas

      Yes, I am a westerner from the U.S. My parents were missionaries in Ivory Coast for 35 years. I served with them when I was in my teens, visiting the sick in the hospitals, helping with medical clinics, etc.

      I don't pretend to be an expert on conditions in Ivory Coast, especially since I have been away for several years....but I do know that the opportunities that kids have in developed countries are very different from those available in 3rd world countries, and sometimes the choice isn't between a bad choice or a good choice, but between worse or worst. Thanks for your thoughtful reply.

    • SantaCruz profile image

      SantaCruz 6 years ago from Santa Cruz, CA

      Debbie, thank you for sharing another view of what's happening in Ivory Coast. You raise a good point about the children avoiding being recruited into war. Still, I would rather not compare the situation with what is worse -- rather, we should strive for what's better. A child in any culture needs time for innocence and play and literacy education. These kids are vulnerable to their owners' violent or otherwise perverse whims.

      From a CNN story:

      --Scars crisscross Yacou’s legs from a machete. He can’t clear grass in the cocoa fields without cutting himself... The emotional scars run much deeper...

      “I wish I could go to school. I want to read and write,” he said. But Yacou hasn’t spent a single day in school, and he has no idea how to leave the farm.--

      This work can't be likened to an apprenticeship. The previous comment about keeping kids from being idle seems misinformed.

    • profile image

      lovesbooks 6 years ago

      I agree with the points in your post. If you don't mind my asking, are you a westerner? Peharps a white westerner? The reason I ask is most Africans living in thw west are VERY familiar with how its media cover certain stories from there. It's always black or white never nuanced or as thoughful as your article. Maybe because you have lived there you better understand the unique realities and how people ther deal with them. Children working on farms, in other peoples's homes, apprenticed in other peoples's businesses is really quite common especially if such a child is poor or parentless. If the child is idle the fear IS real that they would most likely fall into bad hands and ruin their future. Development work ethics or at least learning at an early age that work equals survival or that money and prosperity don't grow on trees but rather something to work for, is what I consider good training.

      Of course you and I speak of a different reality from children living in the West. Thanks again for the article.