Children have the right to participate in decisions that affect them; and listening to them is key to understanding their aspirations, priorities, and the challenges they face, as well as to finding appropriate solutions.
In partnership with Nestlé, ICI initiated consultations with children and adolescents aged 10 – 17 in cocoa-growing communities in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire. The consultations aimed to create an environment in which children felt safe tovoice their opinions. Using a range of child-friendly participatory approaches, we explored their perceptions and experiences of education, work, health and wellbeing; the challenges they face in their daily lives; and asked for their ideas on how to solve them.
Aspirations around education
Children saw education as a pathway to a 'better' future, especially secondary and tertiary education. But many were also aware of the financial constraints that might prevent them from continuing their studies or getting their dream job.
“I want to be a nurse. This is because there is none in my family. All my family members are school dropouts. I believe I can be a nurse if I learn hard. My parents will be so proud of it. So, in 2021 I am determined to do better.” (Girl, 15, Tweapease)
Most children felt positively about school, but not all. Some did not want to pursue further education, either because it was deemed unnecessary for their preferred career, or because of other challenges they faced. Several children talked about teacher violence or being made to do child labour by their teachers. Others expressed a lack of support from their family, or a lack of financial resources.
Aspirations around work and employment
All the children had clear aspirations as to what they would like to do in the future. Their responses reveal gender bias linked to traditional masculine or feminine career choices. Girls wanted to become nurses, caterers, and hairdressers, while boys favoured football, tiling, and the military.
“After finishing senior high school, I hope to enter university and then proceed to become a soldier. I know without further education, I cannot become a soldier.” (Boy, 13, Kwadwo Nkwanta)
None of the children wanted to become cocoa farmers. They preferred to own a cocoa farm and employ others to work it, or to use cocoa-farming as secondary source of income to complement a primary job.
"I don't want to become a cocoa farmer like my father because cocoa work is hard. I want to become a teacher to have money to help my parents." (Boy, 17, Takoréagui)
Perceptions of child work
The consultations around child labour revealed that many children were regularly engaged in light work both at home and on farms to support their parents or guardians. While many reported negative sentiments toward the challenges of light work, they also explained that it allows them to contribute to their household to become responsible adults.
“My parents cannot be there forever. I have to learn what they are teaching me on farm and in the house so that I can also use to take care of my family in the future.” (Boy, 11, Tweapease)
Children were aware of the difference between light and hazardous work but explained that they often had little choice but to do as their parents instructed.
“To prevent children like us from engaging in dangerous tasks on cocoa plantations, parents need to be educated on hazardous labour." (Boy, 15, Tiémélékro)
Children suggested several things that may improve their situation, regarding work, education and social services:
- improving the provision of essential services that are often lacking in many cocoa-growing communities, such as schools, clinics, water, mobile connectivity, and public transport, which affects the social and economic wellbeing of all people, particularly children.
- that their parents allow them to focus on their education as opposed to asking them to work on the cocoa farms.
- the importance of awareness raising on issues of child labour with their parents/guardians as a strategy to reduce their involvement in hazardous cocoa activities.
- improving access to cash transfers, Village Savings and Loan Associations, school kits, etc. that would make their families less vulnerable to when funds are limited.
These consultations show that when given the opportunity and a supportive environment, children are more than capable of sharing relevant and practical solutions to the challenges they face.
We were reassured to learn that children’s priorities and aspirations are generally well aligned with the types of support currently provided in cocoa growing communities. However, we also learned that children often need more information about why certain activities are happening in their communities, who is responsible for what, and where to go if they have a problem.
ICI staff in Ghana have now been trained in the principles of child participation and using participatory methods with children. We are using these findings to re-think the way we communicate our work to children and their families, as well as to better incorporate children's views and perspectives in the way we design and implement future programmes to improve their lives and wellbeing.