The government of Côte d’Ivoire vowed to strengthen its efforts against child labor after a police operation last week rescued 137 victims, Thomson Reuters Foundation reported on Monday.
The raid centered on the southeastern town of Aboisso, which the government considers a child labor hotspot. Police combed vehicles, cocoa plantations, and nearby villages for two full days in search of trafficked children in the country’s first major rescue operation since 2017.
According to officials, the rescued children were trafficked from nearby countries including Nigeria, Benin, Ghana, and Togo and ranged in age from six to 17. At least six of those rescued were trafficked for prostitution. The operation also led to the arrest of twelve traffickers.
Thomson Reuters Foundation reports:
The rescued children were placed in the care of a charity in Aboisso while investigations are under way to find their parents, the government said.
“Ivory Coast’s image is tarnished by child trafficking,” said Kouadio Yeboue Marcellin, deputy police chief in Aboisso.
“We are appealing to all parents. A child’s place is at school and not on plantations,” he said in a statement.
Police pledged to make the operation, code-named “Bia III,” the first of many under Côte d’Ivoire’s most recent national action plan to eradicate child labor. However, operations depend on limited funding. The Aboisso raid was personally financed by the office of First Lady Dominique Outtara, a leading figure in the country’s anti-trafficking movement.
Côte d’Ivoire is the world’s largest exporter of cocoa beans, and its economy is highly dependent on the crop. But the country’s exports are tainted by widespread child labor; today, nearly a million children are estimated to work in its cocoa plantations. Child labor is similarly rife in other industries, including mining and domestic work.
The government has taken steps to address the problem in recent years, creating its first national action plan in 2012 and expanding it in recent years to include an emphasis on women’s empowerment. But last week’s raid in Aboisso serves as an important reminder of the work still to be done.