Sometimes children who have stopped doing hazardous work return to child labor. Our current estimate is that this "relapse" number stands at 10% to 20% of children. Returning to hazardous work can happen for a variety of reasons. This is one boy's story.
In the porch of his father’s house 15-year-old Assamadou shows us the machete he has been using. Rain is hammering on the corrugated iron roof and everyone in the town has ducked under some kind of cover. Assamadou looks out at the scene thoughtfully and explains that he knows he isn’t supposed to be in the fields with a machete, but he doesn’t feel he has a choice.
The family situation
Assamadou’s father Daouda did not go to school. He immigrated from Burkina Faso when he was a child and, with his older brother, headed south to Côte d’Ivoire in search of opportunities. Eventually, his older brother returned home, but by then Daouda had bought land outside the town of D. where was growing coffee and cocoa. So, he decided to stay and raise his family.
But he admits that tending to his field is getting harder. He is getting old. His field is a long way from the village. Distance is measured in time not kilometers here. Local people tell us that walking to the field would take a couple of hours – and that is before the actual work begins.
With a tired nod, Daouda sums it up “it’s not easy now at my age” he says, “especially the weeding and harvesting – it wears me out.” Daouda has ten children, seven boys and three girls. The eldest have left home to find jobs in the city. Two are chauffeurs, another is a tailor. The youngest though is still a toddler and is sitting happily on his lap. He isn’t exactly sure how old Assamadou is because they never registered the birth, but he guesses around 15 years old.
“My older brothers help us financially,” says Assamadou, “but not all the time.” One of them has been paying for Assamadou to go to school. His grades are only average, but he is unusual in having stayed in school for as long as he has. “I love school, especially French,” he says. He normally speaks Mossi with his father and Bambara locally in the village, so French is his third language and he is already fluent in it. “It’s a language I love, and I learn it faster than the other subjects at school,” he says.
Delaying the return to school
But by the time we visited in mid-September, the autumn term had begun and Assamadou still hadn’t gone back to school after the summer break. Instead he had been helping two of his older brothers work their father’s field, because it was the cocoa harvest season.
“The Community Liaison Person has been to see me and my father at least five times while I’ve been present – and he’s been some more times when I’ve not been here as well. I did learn a lot of things from him, like children shouldn’t weed the fields, light bonfires, hunt, or do difficult tasks.
But I do it because my father is old. He isn’t strong enough anymore. So, I don’t have any other choice. I weed the field and open the pods to get the seeds out. Once the cocoa is harvested, I’ll go back to school, but I haven’t started yet because my old man can’t afford it.”
Continuing follow up and support
Armand, the Community Liaison officer, confirms Assamadou’s story, adding that at first the awareness raising was effective and the boy initially stopped working in the fields. “He didn’t receive any remediation but we spoke to him and his father. We went to his house and showed him images to help him understand that carrying heavy loads like that when you are young can have serious consequences. Seeing the images, the farmer understood and Assamadou stopped doing these tasks for a while. But his dad is quite old, he finds it hard to breathe and he can’t get on his bike to go to the field very much anymore, so Assamadou wants to help him.”
Assamadou puts the machete back under the bench on the porch. He tells us with a grin he dreams of joining the army when he is older, but that story will have to wait for now. The clouds have begun to clear and he leaves to check that his bike is ready for tomorrow.
Important note regarding “challenging” cases
Our data, and the case studies in this report, shows that there are children who were identified in child labor, received home visits and/ or remediation, and continue to do hazardous work. At the time of this report’s publication, all of these children are continuing to receive visits, support and appropriate remediation from our Community Liaison People.