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Child labor and exploitation in the cocoa plantations of Ivory Coast (May-June 2007)

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It is common to see a Westerner wearing clothing manufactured by children who work as slaves. Also, many Westerners drink coffee and eat chocolates that are produced by such children. Is there any child in the West who has never played with a balloon manufactured at the other end of world by a child of the same age? The fruits of child labor can be seen in our premises: in our homes, our cupboards, and our plates. The consumer society in which we live generates a depersonalization of the products: the consumers buy anonymous objects. And yet these objects also have a history. This phenomenon now takes various forms and touches different sectors.

It is particularly interesting to study the causes and effects of this labor since it makes it possible to establish a bond between the situation of thousands of children and the country in which we live. It represents a symbol of greed that is regarded as a delicacy primarily intended for the children, and it should not be forgotten that most of the cocoa comes from plantations in which children are exploited in an unacceptable way. At the end of 1990, the situation of thousands of children in the sector of the production of the cocoa in Ivory Coast appeared with a new acuity, under the push of intense media coverage. The Ivory Coast was shown to obtain more than 90 % of its production by the work of child slaves.

Today, a major difficulty is the absence of a precise definition of child labor. Indeed, it operates in a variety of environments and can take different forms in different countries. This may be an activity limited to a few extra hours per week, seasonal work, or a full-time job. This work may be voluntary or forced, it can be paid or unpaid. In other words, child labor concerns "all the productive activities of a minor child, whether paid or not, irrespective of whether the work is voluntarily done or not."

However, it is very important to distinguish between different forms of work due to the different impacts it can have on the life of the child and his/ her later development. Initially, most children start off working in activities that mainly consist of support for keeping the home or helping out in the family-owned fields; this form of work is often considered acceptable, since this contribution to the family economy does not prevent the child from going to school , it cannot be considered as slavery. Also falling within this framework are jobs to earn pocket money as long as they remain occasional and are just minor activities.

The concept of child labor is a higher level in the classification of different forms of child labor since this is a full-time, making the possibility of schooling slim. Child labor can exist in a family environment or not, the main criterion here is an abuse by the employer (or parent) which at times can become unbearable, often while accompanied by lack of food and sleep, and low pay.

Tags: child labor, Ivory Coast, cocoa plantations, slavery

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