Regional Minister-designate rebuffs child labour claims on cocoa farms

The Western Regional Minister-designate has dismissed claims that children who work on cocoa farms are subjects of child labour.

Dr Kwaku Afriyie at the vetting by Parliament’s Appointment Committee put up a spirited defense about how such children who work on cocoa farms do so to support themselves and their families.

He argued that child labour has its own cultural dimension which Westerners do not understand and that makes them label what happens all over Africa as child labour.

“I am not denying that you will not get a case of child labour or for that matter child abuse in the society…the child labour stigmatisation has a cultural dimension which is ignored,” he argued.

The use of children on cocoa farms is a contentious issue with many saying it is a perception while others admitting it is a hidden truth and a well-known fact.

In 2010, findings of a research commissioned by Tulane University showed that a staggering 1.8 million children aged 5 to 17 years work in cocoa farms of Ivory Coast and Ghana at the cost of their physical, emotional, cognitive and moral well-being.

The report further establishes that about 40 percent of children working in cocoa fields of Ivory Coast are not enrolled in schools and that only five percent of Ivorian children are paid for their work.

The United States Department of State particularly the Department of Labour (DOL) has downgraded Ghana citing child labour in the agriculture sector and in particular the cocoa sector.

But Dr Afriyie said “child labour is not a big issue in the cocoa industry in Ghana per se right now. We have to segregate the cultural dimensions – the Ghanaian social set up – and what people label as child labour.”

Narrating his own experience, he shared how as a child he worked on cocoa farms to save money, write and pass his common entrance to make it to St Augustine’s College, one of the best schools in the country to study.

“I don’t know about other areas but in the cocoa industry, I am happy to report it is largely and grossly exaggerated in this country,” the trained medical doctor with several acres of cocoa farms in Sefwi Wiaso said.

Answering questions from the Minority Leader, Haruna Iddrisu on the issue, he said it is unfortunate many, especially those in the western world hold that perception. 

“There is nothing you can do about perception but educating those who are labeling us as such as I take strong exception to these perceptions,” he stated.

He added that an NGO once came to him to help conduct a study “with all these preconceived ideas” and in almost four of the cocoa farms they visited in different areas of the region they found no incidence of child labour.

The former Member of Parliament for Sefwi Wiaso, however, conceded that in the emerging galamsey industry, there are many children involved which a concerted effort is needed to solve the problem.

“We have to do studies before tackling that problem because what they are doing is illegal.

He also downplayed what is termed to be the hazardous circumstances under which children on cocoa farms work and asked for evidence from those who claimed to have done research to that effect to show their methodology.

Dr Afriyie warns that if care is not taken, the dynamics of the arguments would dissuade parents from bequeathing cocoa farms to their children as any attempt to teach them about farming practices would be labeled as child labour.

He added that since the West control the cocoa market, “I suspect that they might be doing that deliberately to hold the price of cocoa down.”