Ambassade de la Côte d'Ivoire
Washington, DC - Etats-Unis
Washington, DC
Remarks by the First Lady Dominique Ouattara at the Atlantic Council roundtable
Vendredi 20 Septembre 2019
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am very happy to meet you again. I fondly recall the last time I attended the Atlantic Council, on June 22, 2015.
Dear friend Dr. Peter PHAM welcomed me with great warmth and hospitality, and we had very interesting discussions on the issue of child labor. I am therefore delighted to be back among you today, and I wish to sincerely thank Dr. PHAM and his team for receiving us today.
Please allow me to introduce the delegation members who are accompanying me today:
Minister Patrick ACHI, Secretary General of the Presidency;
Mr. Mamadou HAIDARA, Ambassador of Côte d’Ivoire to the United States of America;
Mrs. Patricia Sylvie YAO, Executive Secretary of CNS, the National Oversight Committee to Fight Child Trafficking, Exploitation, and Child Labor, and my Chief of Cabinet;
Mr. Georges KOFFI, Chief of Cabinet for the Secretary General of the Presidency;
Mrs. Nadine SANGARE, Director of the Children of Africa Foundation;
Mr. Tod PRESTON, Senior Vice President of GPG;
Mrs. Tessy WINKELMAN, CNS Consultant on Child Labor Issues;
Mr. Brahima COULIBALY, Director of Communication;
Thank you to all personalities who are with us today. Specially my friend Congressman Dight EVAN.
- Mr Chris FOMONYOH, Director for Africa at NDI;
- Mrs Connie HAMILTON, Assistant US Trade representative for Africa;
- Ambassador Philipp Carter III;
- And Mr SCOLEY, President of the World Cocoa Foundation.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We are here in Washington to explain the actions carried out by Côte d’Ivoire in the fight against child labor, and to discuss this important issue with the American authorities.
We were deeply concerned by the letter written by Senators Ron WYDEN and Sherrod BROWN suggesting an embargo on Ivorian cocoa, because of child labor in cocoa production.
To this end, we met with leading figures such as Senators BROWN and WYDEN, as well as Mrs. Brenda SMITH, Executive Assistant Commissioner for Customs and Border Protection. Our discussions were very positive and this morning with Senator Lyndsey GRAHAM. They congratulated us for our work and expressed their wish for the cocoa industry to become more involved in this fight, so that the incomes of farmers could be improved.
In addition, they all wanted to establish a partnership with us in order to join efforts toward achieving the expected results.
Today’s roundtable gives me the opportunity to present the progress made in the fight against child labor in Côte d’Ivoire.
Since 2011, The National Oversight Committee, which I chair, and the Inter-ministerial Committee have carried out actions to curb child labor in cocoa farming, in collaboration with our partners.
Since 2012, we have implemented three successive National Action Plans to combat child labor in Côte d’Ivoire.
The third National Action Plan for 2019-2021 has just been launched, with a budget of 127 million dollars, to fight the root causes of child labor from a holistic approach.
Immediately in 2012 upon taking up my new role, I sought to understand:
Who are these children who are working on cocoa farms?
Where are they?
Where do they come from?
and do they go to school?
I sought to have the exact figures in order to assess the full scope of the issue.
Research conducted by USDOL showed that 85 % of the children involved in cocoa farming attend school; they live with their parents and occasionally accompany them to the fields after school hours and on weekends.
As for the remaining 15 %, they do not go to school and often don’t live with their parents.
Therefore, these children are more at risk, and need all our attention.
As regards forced labor, available research including recent studies undertaken by the American NGOs Vérité and the Walk Free Foundation estimate the number of children victims of forced labor in cocoa production at 0.17 % of the total population of children working in cocoa farming.
Although this figure is very low, it nonetheless remains inacceptable as nothing justifies forcing children to work.
I would now like to outline the main actions we have carried out based on these plans:
We have launched extensive communication campaigns throughout the country. Changing mindsets and making farmers aware that child labor is strictly prohibited has proven to be the most important part of our work and it was difficult.
We have explained that the children who help their parents on the farm after school should not be exposed to dangerous work, notably involving the use of machetes or pesticides.
We have also hosted seminars and trained over 70,000 key players in the remediation chain, including cocoa farmers’ cooperatives.
In 2011, we realized that there were few schools near the cocoa-growing communities. To remedy this shortage, the Government of Côte d’Ivoire and its partners have invested massively in the construction of schools and canteens, health centers, and hydraulic wells, to improve the cocoa-producing communities’ living conditions. 30,000 classrooms have thus been built in rural cocoa-producing areas.
All these actions enabled the Government to make schooling compulsory in Côte d’Ivoire, in 2016.
With this new measure, which was a major step forward, the number of children attending school increased from 59 % in 2008 to 90 % in 2019.
Moreover, poverty has been identified as the root cause of child labor. For this reason, the President of the Republic has undertaken a major reform of the coffee and cocoa sector that guarantees a fixed income for the farmers.
For my part I am personally engaged in the fight against women’s poverty, notably via FAFCI, a micro-credit program I have set up with the help of the President of the Republic; it has enabled more than 200,000 women to become autonomous and improve the living conditions of their families.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Côte d’Ivoire is the economic spearhead of French-speaking West Africa; with 40% of the French-speaking sub-region’s GDP, it attracts many people from neighboring countries and leads to cross-border child trafficking.
This is why, in 2017, I organized the conference of the First Ladies of West Africa and the Sahel on combating cross-border trafficking and child labor, with the participation of 14 West African and Sahelian countries.
This conference allowed our different countries to sign cooperation agreements against child trafficking.
As regards child protection and professional care, my Foundation Children of Africa has built three shelters for child victims inside the country to provide support and care for children victims of exploitation and to ensure their safe return to their families and their reintegration in society.
As regards repression, Côte d’Ivoire has voted laws and decrees to punish child trafficking, exploitation, and labor.
These laws that did not exist before, prohibit all forms of child labor and provide for prison sentences for traffickers and all their intermediaries.
To date, more than 220 traffickers have been sentenced to imprisonment thanks to these laws.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Our efforts have been acknowledged by the US Government; indeed, the State Department has commended our initiatives on several occasions and has ranked Côte d’Ivoire among the countries that have made significant efforts toward the elimination of child labor. This has been the case every year since 2012.
Furthermore, in May 2019 Côte d’Ivoire was recognized by the International Labour Organisation as a pioneering country toward achieving Target 8.7 of the United Nations’ sustainable development goal on the elimination of child labor.
As you can see, ladies and gentlemen, Côte d’Ivoire has been combating child labor for several years and our efforts are recognized.
This encourages us to step up our fight against this scourge.
Far from curbing child labor, the threat of an embargo by the USA on Ivorian cocoa exports would ruin all our previous effortsand make the problem even worse.
Furthermore, it would be a disaster for the hundreds of thousands of small cocoa farmers and their families who are already struggling to survive; at least 6 million people are subsisting on cocoa farming.
Not to mention the potential risks for Côte d’Ivoire, a haven of peace and economic opportunity to people fleeing the poverty and terrorism in our neighboring countries. Côte d’Ivoire risks being exposed to these dangers in turn.
Clearly, the USA and Côte d’Ivoire are both committed to eliminating the scourge of child labor in West Africa.
To this end, we have agreed with the Deputy Executive Commissioner Mrs. Brenda Smith, as well as with Senators Brown and Wyden, to continue our discussions with a view to establishing a collaborative partnership to combat child labor in the cocoa sector.
Indeed, while it is true that the measure advocated by Senators Wyden and Brown is directed against cocoa companies, it would cause the people of Côte d’Ivoire to suffer the most.
Consequently, we are asking for help and support to prevent the requested embargo from being enforced, and to find a more suitable approach to this issue instead.
We are willing to collaborate with all parties who wish to help improve the lives of our cocoa farmers and their children.
Now My delegation and I are at your disposal to answer any questions you may have on this issue and gather your suggestions.
Thank you for your attention.
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