The Dark Side of Chocolate (Part 1)

Double click on any word to see the meaning.

They start young in the West African cocoa farms. This girl who has been put to work clearing weeds with a machete, Cutlass (?), she's just 5 years old, one of tens of thousands of child laborers here in Camaroon.

Etienne Babila survived two years on the farms. He was rescued thanks to a child labor project, run by the International Labour Organization, ILO. Now he's showing Julius Fonboh, who has been working on the project, exactly what he went through.

Click below to read the rest of the transcript...

While many of his friends are still laboring in the cocoa plantations, Etienne is back at school again learning to read and write and now full of ambition. "I think that to be a medical doctor is good. Or, to be a judge. Because, if I be a judge, I will like to judge any parents that is sending children to the farm." "That sounds very, very interesting Etienne."

Etienne was taken out of school when he was 12. Both of his parents were ill. He had to become the family's breadwinner. He was strong. He could earn up to 3 dollars a day in the cocoa farms next to his village. But without an education, this is all he would ever do for as long as he survives snake bites, machete wounds, and most dangerous of all according to doctors, exposure to the highly toxic pesticides used to drench the cocoa pods.

This is Camaroon's main cocoa producing area. One of the site in 5 West African countries selected by the ILO for the first major attempt to tackle to scandal of child labor in the cocoa farms. Most of the world's chocolate is made from West African cocoa and the ILO estimates that nearly 300,000 school age children work in dangerous condition to produce it. For Julius Fomboh, the exploitation of child labor, taking children out of schools to do adults work in hazardous conditions, is a violation of human rights.

"It's really serious, children working on the farms. It's really, really serious. I think it's worse than slave trade because at least adults can protect themselves but children, their response is not like adults."

As he says, it's also economic nonsense. A sound economy can not be built on the back of a child.
"When did you start using the machete in the field?"
"Around 12 years."
"Can we see?"
"How do you get treatment?"
"I go to the house and tie it with cloth, just like that."
"And you don't go to the hospital?"
"That's very, very sad. Your parents, is it because they have no money to take you to the hospital or they just don't feel that they should take you to the hospital?"
"There was no money."
"What about your hand? You are comfortable when handling...?"
"And the treatment is the same?"

Etienne is showing Julius how the pods are opened, when children appear through the trees with heavy sacks on their heads. There is a distinction between what the ILO describes as child work, helping out with light tasks after school, and the expoitation of cheap labor. As a United Nations organization, the ILO is committed to eliminating child labor worldwide. When the cocoa project began, workers from local organizations, spent time talking to parents and farmers, about what was necessary and acceptable and what was simply, exploitation. In Etienne's village and elsewhere, the committe came to agree that children should stay at school for as long as possible, that they should be protected, and that child labor was not a solution to their problems. Etienne was among the first to be rescued.
"Can you tell me how it happened that you stopped working in the farm and you went to school."
"I was in the house one day when some people came. They said that they are angels. They said that they are fighting for children. Like that they should not be working in the cocoa farm, they should go to school. I told them that I am one of them. So they identified me and I said that I would like to go to school. So then they give me all that I needed and I started going to school."

For Etienne to return to school, his family had to find another way of making money. The solution, with the help of the ILO's cocoa project, their very own restaurant. And this is today's lunch.

"Ok this is stew and about how many people will eat this?"
"20 people."

Rachel, Etienne's mother, was given help by the cocoa project to start the restaurant. She charges 250 African francs, about half a US dollar, for a bite of spicy chicken stew and plantains. 20 customers a day will give her a profit of around 3,000 francs, or 6 US dollars - enough to pay the rent, feed her family, and keep Etienne at school.

Rachel explains that her husbands has suffered from epilepsy since childhood so he has never been able to work full-time though he does brew palm wine which they now sell in the restaurant. When she fell ill, a few years ago, there was no one to provide for the family. Etienne, she says, was the strongest, so it was he who had to go to work.

They had to stop Elienne going to school, she says, so that he could earn money on the farm and support them all. But now she is pleased that she is back in class. I'm very happy with Etienne she says. I want him to go on with further education so that he can be a better person.

I the ILO's child labor project, has succeeded in sending 50 children back to school in this one small village, well over 1,000 throughout Camaroon, and 11,000 in the 5 countries covered througout the project. Etienne is catching up on 2 years of lessons and his teachers say he is doing well writing and speaking English and French - necessities in this bilingual country. He is doing so well, he wants to stay on at school but that is now in doubt. Despite its success, the 3 year project has ended. Far from becoming a judge, Etienne may have to return to the cocoa field.

1 comment:

JBlack said...

Great info on what is really happening in this arena. Retelling this personal story is very effective and helps us understand the often unspoken truth behind our beloved chocolate. Well done! It is, indeed, complicated by many factors and not an easy problem to solve. However, the provision of education is a huge part of the solution. I like how you pulled this out in this story. In this country we take education for granted; in other countries it is not a given.