Family-focused change: The ICI way of child protection
“I used to finance my children’s education with loans from a micro finance in Dwinase. These were repaid by selling the produce from my vegetable farm until I finished paying it all, including the interest.” This was the opening statement from Mary who lives in Sefwi Kofikrom, a cocoa community in Ghana, with her nine children. She explains how the International Cocoa Initiative’s Community Development Programme impacted her life, that of her children, and her community.
The Community Development Programme was active from 2015 to 2018 in 75 cocoa-growing communities in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire. It specifically targeted 29 communities in Ghana. Its main purpose was to promote child-centred development in these communities and eliminate child labour.
“The coming of ICI was a lifeline for me. We were introduced to the concept of child labour and its effects on our children,” Mary explains. She joined 13 volunteers as members of the Community Child Protection Committee (CCPC), a group responsible for monitoring child labour and raising awareness of its dangers. “We also work with community leaders to ensure that all development included protection of the children in the community. After the training, we were equipped with safety clothes and awareness-raising materials to start our work.”
The programme supported the CCPC to lead their community in developing an action plan to guide their progress. This plan captured the community’s short-term needs, resources required to achieve them and also a specific timeline.
“We identified through our action plan that our priority was to put up a new nursery block, which we did with ICI’s support,” Mary says. ICI supplied the community with the materials to construct a three-classroom block with a store and teachers office (learn more about ICI’s work on education in Ghana). “The community used communal labour to put up the building with the help of local artisans. Now, our children have a beautiful classroom to study in. Our school is growing now because the children are happy with the new infrastructure.”
Providing alternative livelihoods and labour
In Kofikrom, eleven households with high rates of child labour received assistance to set up vegetable farming to make additional income. At first, Mary explains, it was difficult to convince women to join the Income Generating Activities (IGA) group. “I had to take it upon myself to move from house to house in order to convince them of the genuineness of this initiative. Those who took the risk are now reaping the results.”
“We were supported to start maize and rice farms to fund our work as CCPC members,” Mary continues. Seedlings, fertilizers and agrochemicals were provided by ICI. “I opted to cultivate rice and it has been of great help to me. I made GHC 1,200 from my first harvest and sold it right here in Kofikrom. I used that money to sort out the educational needs of my children and other expenses.”
As part of ICI’s programme, communities with high incidents of child labour were assisted to establish groups known as Community Service Groups (CSG). These groups were formed by volunteers who were then trained and equipped by the project to replace the use of children on the farm.
“The presence of the CSG has drastically reduced the use of children on the farm,” she pointed out. “They are more skilled and their rates are lower than that of the individual labourers. They are also ready to open credit lines for trustworthy farmers during the lean season. These debts are redeemed when the cocoa season opens. This makes them a better alternative to all other forms of labour. For the CCPC, this is very good news,” she ended with a smile.
For most of the CCPC members, the lessons they learned from ICI on child labour have become a way of life in their house. For Mary, this is no different:
“Now, I do not allow my children to engage in activities that are not age appropriate. Before the training, I used to force my children to carry heavy loads due to the hard situation at home. Now, they carry what they can manage when we go to the farm,” she concludes. “I am also very particular about the work they do on the farm during the weekend and vacations and for how long they work. Even when it comes to chores, I ensure that they are always protected and allowed to grow into productive adults.”