Child Slavery in the Cocoa Production in West Africa
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.