In the rural region of Soubré, Côte d'Ivoire, teachers play a key role in the fight against child labour. Thanks to the training provided by the SYNADEEPCI union in partnership with Education International, UNICEF, and Save the Children, education professionals have learned to distinguish between work that is socialising and work that interferes with schooling, including activities that are dangerous for children.
Teachers have also embraced their role in raising awareness among parents and communities. As a result of their efforts, they have been able to prevent several early marriages and abuses that would have affected students in the area. Village chiefs and religious leaders are also involved in this initiative, which has reduced child exploitation in the Soubré region. School dropouts may still occur, but teachers continue to work with local authorities to find appropriate solutions and prevent child labour.
The SYNADEEPCI union is participating in the Work: No Child's Business project with Education International, UNICEF, and Save the Children to eradicate child labour in the Soubré region. Since 2020, the union has trained 303 teachers to combat child labour, which includes cocoa farming, trade, handicrafts, and domestic work.
Teachers have learned to distinguish between child labour and socialising work and are better able to intervene with the families of pupils in case of abuse that could harm their schooling. Otété Kaouka Affoué, headmistress in Kpada stated: “We have learned the difference between child labour and socialising work. For example, on a cocoa plantation, a child cannot pick cocoa pods from the tree, but he or she can help assemble them into a pile outside of school hours. I am better trained to talk to the planters. I know how to approach them, how to explain that a child can carry a load, but not a heavy load.”
Teachers are respected by their communities and this helps them change the behaviour of parents. According to Otété Kaoukou Affoué, “in rural areas, teachers are respected by parents. Many parents lack awareness, so when we talk to them, they reflect on their actions. When the teacher summons a parent, he or she also thinks that we have a link with the authorities, that we can call the gendarmerie if they do not change their attitude towards their children.” In 2017, Côte d'Ivoire adopted a list of dangerous work prohibited for children and a list of light work permitted for children aged 13 to 16.
The teachers trained under Work: No Child's Business are equipped to intervene in the families of pupils when they notice abuses that put the children's schooling at risk. Seyba Sigui, head teacher in Oupoyo, shared one such story: “At the beginning of the school year 2022-2023, I noticed that a pupil in CM2 (last year of primary school) was sleeping frequently in class. She is 11 years old, and she told me that she worked a lot: she got up every day at 4 am to wash clothes and fetch water before coming to class at 8 am. I summoned the father. At first, he was opposed to what I was saying, but when I explained to him the consequences of this work on his daughter, he changed. She doesn't have to work as hard anymore and she attends class regularly. This student's dream is to become a midwife.”
Raising awareness has also helped to prevent early marriages and pregnancies. Sandrine Affoué, a teacher at the Oupoyo school: “In 2020, a 13-year-old pupil in CM2 (last year of primary school) was about to be married. Her parents were preparing the dowry. I talked to her mother about my own situation, making her realise that if her daughter did not get married so young, she could become a teacher, for example. The mother understood. The girl is still studying, she is now in the secondary school, and she comes to visit me regularly.”
Support from village chiefs
The awareness-raising activities carried out by the Work: No Child's Business project have helped to reduce the exploitation of children in the six schools of the Okrouyo school group, a commune near Soubré. Helping the local population become aware of the risks of child labour is an important step towards the protection of children's rights and their access to education.
Bancé Yacouba, the head of the six schools in Okrouyo, explains that there are no longer any children being exploited as workers in the area: “School dropouts can still occur, there are still recalcitrant parents, but we then call on the village chiefs, who are partners in our project, and thanks to this intervention with the families, the child returns to school. We have also sensitised religious leaders and representatives of foreign communities living in the area (Malians, Burkinabés, etc.) to support us.” The teachers of Okrouyo also report an improvement in relations between teachers and parents following these awareness-raising activities.
Some of SYNADEEPCI's training courses under Work: No Child's Business focus on gender issues, including gender-based violence. Antoinette Sole, Director of the Institution de Formation et d'Education Féminine de Soubré, says: “We are a second chance school for girls who have dropped out of mainstream education. Our students are generally the most vulnerable and most at risk of being victims of violence. Some don't have enough to eat and may be tempted if they are propositioned with offers of money. Being better trained in this area helps us to establish a relationship of trust with our students and to refer them to social welfare centres.”
Students mobilise to raise awareness
Teachers trained by SYNADEEPCI create anti-child labour clubs in schools. Students in these clubs organise cultural awareness-raising activities on topics such as forced labour, child protection, and child labour. Adults working near the schools or passers-by regularly stop to watch the skits, songs, and poems.
Some schools have even succeeded in convincing parents to send their children to school, rather than making them work. In the town of Soubré, the Gnizako-Beakou school club spotted two children who had dropped out of school completely and were working. One is seven years old and was working as a welder's apprentice with his father, the other is nine years old and was helping his mother clean fish at the market. Julien Okoupo, the school's director, said: “We were able to convince the parents after several visits, explaining to them that they were breaking the law by not sending their children to school, that the children would be very well looked after. To the father we explained that his son will never become a good craftsman if he does not master some basic skills learned at school.”
Sekongo Donafologo Yaya, the teacher in charge of the school club, explains that the SYNADEEPCI training gave him the courage to guide the children. He stressed the importance of differentiating between child labour and socialising work. During visits to families, some parents accuse teachers of encouraging children to be lazy, but teachers are able to explain that socialising work is positive, unlike child labour, which is prohibited. At public meetings, such as parents' meetings, teachers have the support of the representative of the town hall or the pedagogical advisors to back up their arguments.
Positive behaviour changes in teachers
Some teachers say that they changed their own behaviour as parents after their union training. Mr Gnahoré, a teacher at the Gnizako-Beakou school, explained: “As parents, we used to force our children to fetch water from the well. This training has opened my eyes, it has taught me that I should not ask them to do such heavy work. I now give advice to those around me, for example when I see that a child is carrying something too heavy for them.”
SYNADEEPCI's activities are only a small part of the Work: No Child's Business project in Côte d'Ivoire. The other two project partners, UNICEF and Save the Children, are also carrying out important activities to reduce child labour in the Soubré region, such as bridging classes to enable the enrolment of children at risk of child labour, income-generating activities, and support to village savings and loans associations.
Bridging classes, for example, have been set up in the Nawa region to enable the enrolment of children at risk of child labour. 1,580 children (728 girls, 852 boys) enrolled in the 2021-2022 and 2022-2023 school years. In 2022, community mobilisation facilitated by Save the Children resulted in the construction of 38 new classrooms.
The collaboration between SYNADEEPCI, UNICEF and Save the Children for Work: No Child's Business will continue until the end of this project, scheduled for June 2024.