Child labour in time of COVID

Combating child labour in times of COVID-19: the example of the CLEAR Cotton project

The CLEAR Cotton project implements the Accelerated Schooling Strategy (Stratégie de scolarisation accélérée – passerelle - SSA/P) in Burkina Faso and Mali, in order to withdraw children from cotton fields and send them back to school. During the first campaign, the COVID pandemic broke out, and solutions had to be implemented to keep these children in school and away from the fields.

News | 02 June 2021
Children enrolled in one of the project centres with their animator, Kari, Burkina Faso, June 2020 ©ILO
Cotton is one of the world's most widely grown crops and for many countries, cotton production and the textile and garment sectors are central to economic growth and employment. However, 71 per cent of child labour is found in agriculture, and the cotton sector is not spared.

Education is one of the most effective ways to combat child labour. Schools give children the tools and skills needed to find decent work and escape from poverty, giving them a chance at a better future.

To eradicate child labour from the cotton value chain, the CLEAR Cotton project, co-funded by the European Union and implemented in collaboration with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), is implementing the Accelerated Schooling Strategy (SSA/P) in Burkina Faso and Mali.

The project is partnering with two civil society organisations, GRAADECOM (Groupe de Recherches d'Actions et d'Assistance pour le Développement Communautaire) in Mali and FDC/BF (Fondation pour le Développement Communautaire/Burkina Faso) in Burkina Faso. Both organisations are active in the cotton-growing areas and contribute to the social development of communities.

After identifying children who are in or at risk of child labour, and sensitising their families to the dangers of child labour, the project and its partners offer them the opportunity to enrol in one of their educational centres. These centres provide a one-year accelerated training course that enables children to acquire the basic skills and knowledge needed to re-enter mainstream schools.

The project has targeted the largest cotton producing regions, namely the Cercle de Sikasso in Mali and the Boucle du Mouhoun in Burkina Faso. For the first campaign (2019/2020), the project opened 40 centres (20 per country), each in a different village, and over 900 children were. Thanks to the teaching received, 914 enrolled children (477 boys and 437 girls) were able to return to formal schools the following year:
  • In Burkina Faso: 417 children (222 boys and 195 girls).
  • In Mali: 497 children (255 boys and 242 girls).

I was a shepherd and I also worked in the cotton fields. (...) Since I joined the centre, I don't go there anymore. I am happy, because I will acquire knowledge and later on work."

Inoussa Kabore, 11 years old


Student at one of the CLEAR Cotton project centres, Mali, February 2020 ©ILO/B. Alawa


Yet the project had to face an unprecedented challenge: the COVID-19 pandemic that broke in spring 2020. Like many schools around the world, the project centres had to close for several weeks.

The project team and its partners worked closely with ministries of Education, local authorities and beneficiaries’ families in both countries to ensure that children were able to return to school quickly and safely, and to prevent them from falling back into child labour.

The centres organised classes in small groups on a rotational basis; children were provided with masks that must be worn during classes; the project provided hand-washing stations and soap for the centres; and it sensitised the children and their communities on the risks associated with COVID-19 and preventive measures against it. As a result, all project centres were able to reopen and students to complete the curriculum, while most classes in mainstream schools had to remain closed.

For the second campaign (2020/2021), the project has opened 40 new centres, including in new villages. Preventive measures are still being implemented in the centres, despite the low level of COVID-19 cases in the targeted cotton-producing communities.
  • In Burkina Faso, 627 children, including 273 girls, were enrolled in the SSA/P centres located in the communes of Ouarkoye, Bondokuy and Dédougou.
  • In Mali, 535 children were enrolled, including 283 girls, in the SSA/P centres located in 8 rural communes of the Sikasso Circle.

The project is implementing a similar strategy in Pakistan, with 800 children enrolled in education centres from cotton producing areas in Bahawalpur for the 2020/2021 school year.

A student washing his hands, Burkina Faso, June 2020 ©ILO