When my parents lost their land, I had to leave school and go to work

The International Labour Organization has one of the largest programmes in the world that combats child labour. Read the story of a young boy who was forced into work when his family fell on hard times.

Feature | 20 November 2020
I wanted to become a great civil servant in the future; I wanted to become a minister.
My name is Idrissa Kaboré. I am 12 years old and live in Nidrou, in western Cote d’Ivoire.

I used to enjoy going to school and ever since I was small have wanted to become a great civil servant. I wanted to become a minister.

Break times were my favourite. I enjoyed playing outside with my schoolmates, Johan and Claver. After classes, I would go back home and help my mother, washing dishes and collecting firewood.

It was nice working on my homework with my father in the evenings when he returned from the field. He made sure that we got to sleep early to be able to wake up on time for school.

But my father lost his field because he could no longer repay the loan he had taken out to buy the land. So I had to leave school.

My friends and I would go to look for small jobs in the fields of relatives and family friends, earning 1,000 CFA francs (approximately 1.50 euros) between the four of us, or just 250 CFA francs each.

When the schools closed under COVID-19 restrictions, most of my schoolmates joined us in the search for daily work in the fields. Their parents, too, had lost their livelihoods.

In the evening, few of us could afford the luxury of playing on the village football field or going swimming with friends in the river any more.

We worked hard from early morning until late afternoon, returning tired. I had back pain and blisters on my hands. Only my five-year-old little sister was spared.

But I was lucky because my father managed to put some money aside to cover my school fees and when the schools re-opened I was able to go back. 

My friends, Johan and Claver, have not been so lucky. They are still working in the fields, so they can help their parents support their families.

ILO and child labour in Africa

Africa has the highest prevalence of child labour, in both absolute numbers and percentage, with the equivalent of 72 million children working.

The International Labour Organization’s Accel Africa project works in six countries to address child labour in agricultural and mineral commodities industries, including cocoa, gold, cotton, coffee and tea. 

In 2020, the ILO’s Convention on the Worst Forms of Child Labour achieved universal ratification.

This is a positive step, says Cynthia Samuel-Olonjuwon, ILO Regional Director for Africa. But more needs to be done to help children like Idrissa, Johan and Claver have opportunities for a better life.