Jail sentences have been handed out to twenty-two people accused of trafficking children to work in the country’s lucrative cocoa plantations, prosecutors in the Ivory Coast announced on Wednesday.
The convictions by the tribunal in Soubre, in the heart of Ivory Coast’s cocoa-growing region, stemmed from a police raid early this month that resulted in the rescue of 68 children working on cocoa farms.
Most of the children rescued in the raid were trafficked from neighbouring Burkina Faso.
Of the 24 people arrested after the latest raid, five received 20-year sentences, 17 received 5-year terms and two were released, the prosecutor’s office for the regional court of Soubre said in a statement.
Ivory Coast is the world’s top cocoa producer and is under pressure, including from the European Union, to crack down on practices that have led to nearly 1 million children working in the sector.
The police operation was the first since 2014 to target Soubre, at the heart of the cocoa belt.
Policing efforts has been hampered by a lack of funds, according to police in charge of the special unit on child labour.
Brahima Coulibaly, a member of the national monitoring committee on child labour, told Reuters that efforts to tackle the problem were bearing fruit. Of 600 prosecutions of child traffickers between 2012 and 2020, half took place in 2020, he said.
One of those facing 20 years is the purported uncle of one the rescued children, who said he had been brought by his father from Burkina Faso at the age of 13 to work on his uncle’s cocoa plantation. (Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation)