Meet Abdul – a 10-year-old who has worked in the cocoa fields of the Ivory Coast for 3 years and has never tasted chocolate.
This is Theophile – he works 12 hours a day mining for gold in a cramped, poorly ventilated shaft and he’s 7 years old.
According the International Labor Organization, a million children between the ages of 5 and 17 work in small-scale gold mines in Africa.
The average worker in Africa’s gold mines earns less than $2 a day – that’s the price of French fries from Café NDP.
Chocolate exports from the Cote d’Ivoire brings in $2.3 billion annually, which relies on more than 1.8 million children.
For the past four months I have been a part of the Pinkard Scholars program at St. Mary’s Seminary and University. This is a program that focuses on developing a dialogue about present day issues in relation to God and theology. As a final project we researched a specific population that is vulnerable and subject to human trafficking. The facet of human trafficking I chose to cover was child labor and slavery in Africa, specifically in the gold and chocolate industries.
Many people share the delusion that slavery is no longer an issue in the world. Not only is slavery still in existence but it is also prevalent. In a global market where money overpowers morality the workers’ value as human beings diminishes to the point of dehumanization. Perhaps the most startling example of this is child slavery. Take that literally – children as young as seven years of age are being forced to complete the same labor as grown men with primitive tools and no protection. In the gold mines of Burkina Faso half-naked children use pick-axes to mine for the ore then operate machinery that could very easily rip off a limb. Children working in the cocoa fields of the Ivory Coast wield machetes that cut the grass as well as their legs, scarring and marking them.
What forces the child workers out of the house and onto the fields and mines is an even more complex issue. Trafficking is the broad term, but there are many scenarios that fit under that topic. In some cases parents, unable to feed and provide for the entire family, will send their children to work and help the family. Though most bring their children to work with them, there are accounts of children being sold into labor for a handsome fee. Another sad reality is bosses kidnap children from their homes or schools and employ them as cheap labor. A huge population of the child workers are smuggled from across the border, many of whom are orphans who have no one to protect them.
Reading the stories of the children and looking at pictures of them working was very difficult and also enlightening. What struck me the most was the unanimous yearning for freedom, especially for education. As a teenage student, school has never been my favorite priority nor do I view it as a blessing when I wake up every morning. To think that the children, who work nearly twelve hours a day for days on end, are wishing for the ability to read and write makes me reevaluate how much of a privilege available education is and just how blessed I am. It also worries my conscience that they mostly suffer in silence. CNN launched an investigation in 2011 that exposed rampant child slavery in the cocoa plantations of the Ivory Coast, yet there are still children hacking at cocoa pods today who do not know what chocolate tastes like. There have been laws and initiatives implemented by governments to take the children from the workplace and back into their homes and hopefully schools, but due to the intricacies of human trafficking these efforts do little for the children.
As members of the human race it is our duty to raise awareness for the plight of child laborers and slaves. It is also crucial that we hold ourselves and our manufacturers to a higher standard when accepting luxurious products such as gold and chocolate.
Is that chocolate bar really worth the life of a child? Think about it.