Twenty-two people have been jailed for trafficking children to work on Ivory Coast’s lucrative cocoa plantations, police said.
Five received jail terms of 20 years, while the other 17 were given five years, the deputy director of the criminal police, Luc Zaka, told AFP late Tuesday.
The convictions by the tribunal in Soubre, in the heart of Ivory Coast’s cocoa-growing region in the west of the former French colony, resulted from a swoop early this month.
The two-day operation was the fifth of its kind carried out since 2009, involving around 100 members of the security forces as well as forestry officials.
They rounded up 68 children, Zaka said.
Ivory Coast is the world’s top producer of the cocoa bean, commanding more than 40 percent of the market with an annual output of some two million tonnes of cacao, the raw material for chocolate.
The sector employs between five and six million people, but more than half subsist under the poverty line, a situation that incites the use of child labour on the plantations.
According to the NORC research group at the University of Chicago, nearly 800,000 children were involved in cocoa-related labour in Ivory Coast in 2018-19 — a figure that compares to an estimate of 1.2 million in 2013-14, made by researchers at Tulane University in New Orleans.
However, a study conducted in 2018 by the Walk Free Foundation and the Verite humanitarian group said that only 2,000 children were involved.
Many of the children working in Ivory Coast come from Burkina Faso and Mali, poor landlocked countries and traditional providers of labour for their richer neighbour.
Ivorian courts convicted some 300 people of child trafficking between 2012 and 2020, according to an Ivorian child trafficking watchdog, the CNS.
It said around 2,000 children have been pulled from plantation work since 2019.
Cocoa-producing countries and chocolate multi-nationals face mounting demands from Western consumers for ethical chocolate — a product that is ecologically sound and free of child labour.