Our data shows that there is a significant link between maternal literacy and child labor. Child labor rates are higher in households where the mother cannot read or write, and our remediation efforts are more impactful when mothers are literate. This is the story of Béatrice, who joined our maternal literacy program in 2019.
Béatrice tuts gently at her son Roméo. Softly shaking her head, she indicates that he’s made a mistake. He tries reading the word again and does a little better. She nods, pretending to be stern with him but she can’t help letting a little smile escape when he looks back into his book. Reading together is still a novel experience and they are both enjoying it, even though Roméo is already 12.
Two years ago, Béatrice opened a small store in the center of a large village of around 1,000 buildings that are home to perhaps ten times as many people. Most of the jobs here are in farming – cocoa mostly but crops like coffee are grown as well. The village is big enough to support other kinds of work too and Béatrice decided that running a store was more her kind of thing.
You could walk across her whole shop floor in a couple of large strides, but it is tidy and well cared for – the simple wooden structure brightened on the outside by a flash of brilliant blue paint that is typical of the region. Béatrice decided to focus on selling cosmetics and to use the small front porch to install a sowing machine. She is a talented seamstress, and people from all over the village quickly began coming to her for repairs and dressmaking. But there was a problem.
“When clients came, I had no idea how to measure them,” she said sadly. “My parents didn’t send me to school. I couldn’t read. I couldn’t even write my own name. In January, a friend told me that there was a new course for adults where I could learn to read and write. So, I went along and enrolled.”
The class Béatrice had joined was a new women’s literacy program set up by the Nestlé Cocoa Plan. In almost all cocoa-producing villages in this region of Côte d’Ivoire, there is a high level of illiteracy. Most adults didn’t go to school. There are multiple reasons for this: cost, distance or even the lack of a school rank quite highly among them.
To date, Nestlé has helped 975 adult women learn to read and write in Côte d'Ivoire, and wants to help many more.
But there are also traditional and cultural reasons why people didn’t go to school. “Often it wasn’t considered necessary to send every child to school,” says Nathan Bello, Nestlé Cocoa Plan Manager, Côte d’Ivoire. “It was often just the village elite, and then the rest didn’t go. That’s especially true for girls. Traditionally, girls were encouraged to focus more on gaining domestic skill-sets at home. Actually, that is often still the case today. In terms of reaching higher education, girls often get married young as well. So, there is a cultural weight that stops girls getting access to education as easily as boys.”
Yet, our CLMRS data clearly show us that there is a negative correlation between women’s literacy and the likelihood of child labor. Women who can read and write are less likely to allow their children to engage in dangerous tasks.
Nathan explains, “all the actions we take are designed to reduce child labor. Women’s literacy classes are effectively a prevention activity. We hope that they will make it less likely for children to undertake dangerous activities and more likely that they go to school. Romeo wasn’t specifically found undertaking dangerous tasks. But the fact that his mum has learned to read and write reduces the likelihood that he ever will be. This kind of preventative work, done at a community level – and looking beyond the scope of our supply chain – is also important.”
Literacy transforms communities
Béatrice’s teacher takes up the story: “I think that learning to read and write helps the community. It can transform it educationally. Béatrice was among the first 35 women we took in the class this year. She was a little shy at first, I had to push her a bit, but she is very intelligent. She worked hard and was highly motivated. She was among the best students in the class. In fact, she came top in most of the tests.”
Literacy transforms lives
Béatrice has only been learning for a year, but she already says the new skills have made a big difference in her life. “Now that I’ve started learning to read and write, I can take measurements and note them. I can write the price on the products in my shop. When my son comes home from school, I can take his exercise book and look at how he is doing. If he has been working, I can tell and if he hasn’t, I see that too.”
It has also made her more optimistic for the future. Now that she and her son are both learning to read, she feels his prospects are very different. “I didn’t go to school, so it was hard for me. Now I hope that my son gets the chance to take a professional role – to become a doctor or something like that.” She returns to her work, cutting a small strip of fabric and gluing it into her order book. Underneath it, she writes the customer’s details and the length of the cloth required to fulfill the order. All this from a woman who just last year was still quietly dreaming that one day she would be able to write her own name. “Now I can,” she says.