Do you ever feel guilty for eating chocolate?
Besides the “great, now I have to hit the gym” regret, does it ever enter into consideration that the chocolate you are gulping down, more likely than not, is produced in a region accused of exploiting children on cocoa plantations?
According to UNICEF, an estimated 218 million children aged 5-17 are engaged in child labor worldwide, with Asian and Pacific regions employing the most children and sub-Saharan Africa coming in at second place, with an estimated 48 million child workers.
Countries within sub-Saharan Africa, West Africa in particular, where nearly 70 percent of the world’s cocoa is produced, has been on the receiving end of much criticism by many international organizations concerned with upholding labor and human rights standards.
In Ghana, the issue of child labor is one that continually surfaces within the media and political sphere. The debate of whether the prevalence of child labor in Ghana is as rampant as some international organizations and Western donors claim, is one that I have found of interest and worthy of further investigation.
Many Ghanaians I spoke with, while recognizing that some forms of child labor do exist in the country and should be abolished, also contend that much of the criticism leveled by Western advocates comes as a result of misunderstanding the cultural fabric of Ghanaian society.
“In developing countries like Ghana,” as Esi Asante writes in The Ghanaian Times, “participation in family economic activity is practiced also as a family tradition to teach children skills and or family trade for their future survival.”
Moreover, it is often the case that activities actually falling under the category of child work are mistakenly confused as child labor. It is important to highlight the difference here between child work and child labor.
Child work, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention 138, can be positive if the child’s participation in an economic activity does not infringe upon nor adversely affect his or her education, health and development.
Child labor, by contrast, is distinguished as any form of economic activity that deviates from the abovementioned standards. In its most severe form, child labor includes enslavement, forcible recruitment into illegal activities, prostitution, trafficking and exposure to hazardous work.
On a global scale, UNICEF reports that approximately 1.2 million children are trafficked, 5.7 million forced into some form of slavery, 1.8 million into prostitution and pornography, 0.3 million into participation in armed conflict and 0.6 million into other illicit activities.
What one finds in Ghana are both cases of child work and child labor. However, there is evidence to suggest that child work is more common than child labor.
A 2003 ILO/IPEC-Ghana Statistical Service survey on child labor, for example, found that out of the 2.47 million children engaged in some form of economic activity, 64.3 percent of them still attended school.
Asante, on her article on child labor adds, “The ILO acknowledges child work as work that helps to develop the skills of children and encourages them to learn family responsibility. This type is what children engage in mostly in West Africa.”
This comes as good news, especially for us chocolate lovers.
However, we can’t lose sight of that 35.7 percent of Ghanaian children that remain unprotected from abuse and exploitation – nor of the countless child laborers in other developing countries.
The fight for securing children’s rights is far from over.
Luci Storelli-Castro is a senior political science and philosophy major. Her column appears Wendesday in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.