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Our impact, their voice

“We should never get used to child labour”

Artists from the West African country travelled to the International Labour Conference in Geneva to remind everyone that child labour is still a reality that needs to be fought.

Feature | 17 June 2016
GENEVA (ILO News) – Akissi Delta is a well-known actress in the West African country of Côte d’Ivoire. For years, she was one of the stars of a popular TV comedy show broadcast on national television RTI.

Some may wonder why such a celebrity found herself among the group of Ivoirian singers who came together to form the “Choir for the Abolition of Child Labour”. However, it was a very natural thing to do for Akissi since child labour is part of her personal history and she is still paying the price for it.

“It is very difficult for me to read and write. This is a major handicap in my professional life. The reason is that I never went to school,” she admits.

Akissi tells us about her childhood in Côte d’Ivoire. “From the age of two until eight, I was with my grandmother spending almost all my time in the fields. Then, when I was 8 years old, my aunt came and took me with her to Abidjan, the economic capital of Côte d’Ivoire. I was treated well but I never went to school.”

“Then, at the age of 13, because I had no education, I started to work as a maid. I was earning barely enough to survive even though I had to work nonstop from six o’clock in the morning until one ‘o clock at night,” she recalls.

A change for the better

Akissi’s story is not exceptional in many developing countries. But after being exploited and physically abused, her life suddenly changed for the better when she met a famous Ivorian musician who asked her to work with him. She became an actress and was given the opportunity to play a leading role in popular comedy shows such as “Ma famille” and “Comment ça va” which have aired on Cote d’Ivoire’s national TV for many years.

As soon as she heard there was a project for a song to be recorded by Ivoirian artists against child labour, she immediately contacted the leader of the group, music producer and former journalist Guy Constant Neza and offered her support.

Neza only developed an interest in the issue of child labour in 2012.

“I was a journalist at that time and was asked to attend a child labour awareness raising course set up by the International Labour Organization (ILO). I had no particular expectations related to this course but it came as a shock to me. We Ivoirians tend to get used to child labour, when actually, it shouldn’t happen,” he said upon his arrival in Geneva.

Neza explained that the course immediately reminded him of an example in his own family:

“One of my cousins, Angèle, was living in a remote village in the countryside. Angèle and myself were about the same age. My mother brought Angèle to Abidjan. We treated her very well except that I was going to school while Angèle was not. When I think about it, it was so unfair: if I was able to be successful in my carrier, it was precisely because I was given the chance to go to school.”

After attending the ILO course, Neza decided that everyone in his country needed to see child labour in a different way – not as something that was part of everyday normal life but as something that needed to be recognized for what it was – a violation of children’s rights to be free from economic exploitation.

He got in touch with famous song writer Serge Bilé who wrote the words of the song “Mon enfant”, and he brought in David Tayorault, one of the country’s best arrangers. Then he convinced several singers representing different music trends to join in: Bamba Amy Sarah, Nuella, Odia, Priss K, Sead, Spyrow, Tour 2 garde, to name only a few. The song was recorded and a professional video was produced.

Neza insisted that every artist also needed to attend a training course to be fully committed to the cause of combatting child labour. The song was widely broadcast by national television RTI as well as Ivorian radio stations.

But Neza also wanted to reach people in remote areas far from Abidjan. So he set up three successful concerts in the cities of Soubré, Abengourou and Bouaflé. Up to 10,000 people showed up in Soubré alone.

Marking World Day Against Child Labour

Far from Côte d’Ivoire, the Ivoirian singers were among this year’s guests of honour at the official ceremony organized by the ILO at the Palais des Nations in Geneva to mark World Day Against Child labour (12 June).

“Child labour can only be eliminated if local communities fully understand and take action and agree to stop being blind to the reality of child labour. Because of this, the ILO has provided support to the Choir,” says Mary Read, Head of the Advocacy and Partnerships Unit in the ILO’s Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work Branch.

Guy Constant Neza is hoping that their trip to Switzerland will make it possible for them to set up more concerts in Côte d’Ivoire. Meanwhile, Akissi is already preparing a new script and screenplay for another series of the “Ma famille” comedy show, this time highlighting the topic of child labour so that everybody watching the show in Côte d’Ivoire and in neighbouring countries becomes aware that child labour can ruin the future of a child.

“I know what I am talking about since I always need support to write screenplays or even send an e-mail, just because I did not go to school as I was a child labourer,” she concludes.