Make Sure Tools and Workloads are Appropriate for Children

Children and youthHealthNutrition

Notes to broadcasters

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The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child has become a universally ratified human rights treaty seeking to protect children from performing any work that is exploitative and/or dangerous, is harmful to their physical, mental, spiritual or social development, or that interferes with their right to an education. Children who work long hours, or in hazardous conditions, are denied these rights. Two other widely ratified international treaties, the Minimum Age Convention No. 138, and the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention No. 182, set standards relating to child labour and working conditions for young workers.

The aim of the following script is to sensitize farmers, families of children at risk, and the community at large, to the unsafe conditions under which children often work on farms. As a follow-up to the drama, you might interview an expert in child labour issues who can explain work and workloads that are appropriate for children.

The chocolate and cocoa industry, the International Labour Organization (ILO), and national and local governments, have set up pilot projects to educate farmers on safe growing practices, labour laws, and appropriate working conditions for children. Be on the lookout for information about these projects in your district.



ten years old
seven years old
Eric’s and Alike’s Mama

MUSIC [fade in music; hold 5 secs; fade under]

Children all over the world work to help their families in ways that are not harmful. But millions of other children — some as young as five, work for long hours, often in unhealthy and dangerous conditions. They walk long distances carrying heavy loads, handle dangerous tools and machinery, or use toxic pesticides. The work these children do often interferes with their physical, mental and social development.

That’s why national and international laws say that children under the age of 14 should do only light work; and those under 12 should not work at all, except to help out in the family. What’s more, children less than 18 years of age should never be allowed to do dangerous kinds of work — like working with sharp tools or chemicals.

Today’s program is about the dangers faced by children who work on farms. Eric is a ten year old boy who works on a cocoa farm in West Africa. Sometimes he has to do work and use tools that are too much for a small boy. Alike is Eric’s younger sister. But this story isn’t just about Eric and Alike, and it isn’t just about cocoa farming. It is just one example of inappropriate work — and working conditions — for children.

MUSIC [fade in music; hold 3 secs; fade under]

[To audience] I’m scared!Reallyscared! Something happened today which turned my body to stone and froze me to the spot; that is until the foreman yelled at me to get back to work. And he hit me with his fist between my shoulder blades. The pain brought me back to reality.

By the way, my name is Eric and I’m ten years old. I work on a cocoa farm doing whatever the foreman tells me to do.

MUSIC [fade up music; hold 3 secs; fade under]

Eric, what’s the matter? You’re shaking. Are you ill?

I want to talk to papa, Alike. Where is he?

He’s still in the fields. The foreman was angry that mama’s pregnant tummy slowed her down. You know he always wants people to work faster when the coffee beans are ready for picking. So he sent mama home early and made papa work longer instead. Mama is sleeping so you’ll just have to talk to me.

You’re only six years old. You wouldn’t understand a grown-up’s problems.

I’m a big girl and I go to school. When you go to school you understand lots of things. Besides, you’re only ten years old. You’re not a grown-up.

I work full-time like the grown-ups, so what’s the difference?

You’re paid much less than they are.

Yes. And I think that’s unfair because I work from daybreak ’till late in the evening just like they do. And I do the same jobs.

Now tell me about your problem. At school I learn to solve math problems, so I’m sure I can help with yours.

School has taught you to get your own way, that’s for sure. All right, I’ll tell you what happened.

MUSIC [bring up music; hold 2 secs; fade slowly under]

Today, I had to carry the loads of harvested cocoa beans back to the main farm for processing. Each trip to the main farm, with the heavy loads, takes me 40 minutes. The return trip is shorter, and I always hurry back. [Pause] I’d done four trips there and back since I began work at 5 am, and the sun was high in the sky. I was hot and tired and had only stopped to drink water once. My back was aching, but I tried not to think about it, because I still had many hours to work.

Do you remember Thomas, that frail boy who works with us? Well, he was harvesting cocoa pods from the plants with the other younger boys. They’d been in the fields since daybreak as well, and they were very hot and tired.

Especially Thomas — he’s always been sickly, but he still has to come to work. Well, this morning I noticed that he looked weaker than usual, and he was unsteady on his feet. [Pause]

On my fourth trip back to the field, I suddenly heard the young boys screaming. I dropped my sack and ran back as fast as I could. I didn’t see the accident, but I got there right after it happened. It seems that Thomas had swung his machete and the blade had slipped and cut right across Francois’ arm. When I arrived, Francois was lying on the ground and his blood was spurting high into the air, even spraying the cocoa pods on the plants. The men were there too. One of them wrapped a piece of cloth tightly around his arm to stop the flow of the blood, then picked him up and carried him away.

What will happen to him? Will he die from losing all his blood?

I don’t know. Nobody told us anything. This is the third accident this month, Alike, and the second with a machete. Another boy twisted his back carrying a heavy load of coffee beans. I saw it happen and he was in agony. This always happens at harvest time and it’s always the children; never the adults.

That’s because children’s backs aren’t strong enough to carry heavy sacks. Sometimes I worry about you, Eric.

I try to be very careful and look where I’m going. But sometimes, in the heat of the afternoon when you’re hot and tired, it’s easy to lose your footing and twist your ankle, or your back.

I twisted my ankle last year and all the water I was carrying spilled to the ground. It hurt so much. But the foreman didn’t care. He was just angry that I’d spilled the water and he couldn’t drink.

Alike, I forgot that even a small girl like you has to do heavy work. Bringing water to the fields, even just twice a day, must be difficult for you. Those jugs are very heavy.

You’re right. I’m small and the jug is heavy. But what I like is that I can go to school in between my trips to the fields.

Well, I’m happy for you but a little sad for myself. I work from daybreak until late at night and still earn barely enough to help keep us all from starvation. There’s no time for me to go to school. [Pause] But I’ll tell you a secret.

Can I tell mama and papa?

No. The whole point of a secret is that you can’t tell anyone. [Pause] My greatest dream is that one day I’ll be able to go to school too. I want to learn to read and write. Then I’ll become a famous doctor and help all the sick people get better. I would even be able to fix Francois’ arm.

When I grow up I’m going to be a teacher. Then I’ll be able to look at books all day long, whenever I want to.

So you don’t mind having to run back and forth between school and the fields?

No, I feel like a grown-up too, making money and helping the family. Most of the girls and boys in my class work a few hours each day helping their parents on the family farm. But I wish we had jobs like they do. They’re not allowed to use machetes and they don’t have to carry heavy loads.

I don’t mind having to work either. It’s just that…well, you know, I don’t have a chance to learn interesting things like you do and also I never get to play soccer. My second dream is to be a famous soccer player and play for Cameroon. Our team is the best in the world.

Eric, Alike, are you there?

Mama’s awake. Let’s tell her about Francois’ arm.

MUSIC [Fade up music; hold 3 secs; fade out]

That’s the end of today’s drama about children who work in agriculture. This story raises issues about children using dangerous tools, like machetes. It also raises issues about workloads that are too much for children – like heavy loads of cocoa beans, and jugs of water. If you ask your children to help you in the fields or around the house, remember that their bodies are still growing, and that you shouldn’t make them do more than they can safely manage.


Contributed by Christine Davet, Toronto, Canada.

Reviewed by Joost Kooijmans, International Labour Organization – International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour, Geneva, Switzerland.

Information sources

Study into Child Labour in the Cocoa Sector in West Africa. Carried out by the Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and national research coordinators in Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana and Nigeria.

BCCCA Position Paper on the Study into Child Labour in the Cocoa Sector in West Africa.
The Biscuit, Cake, Chocolate & Confectionery Alliance (BCCCA)
37 – 41 Bedford Row
London WC1R 4JH
Tel: 020 7404 9111

International Labour Organization – International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour.
Tel:  +41 22 799 8181
Fax: +41 22 799 8771

International Conference on Child Labour. Oslo, 27 – 30 October 1997:

Relationships between Education and Child Labour Issues Paper
Education and Child Labour Background Paper
Social Mobilization and Child Labour Issues Paper
Social Mobilization and Child Labour Background Paper
Strategies for Eliminating Child Labour: prevention, removal and rehabilitation – Synthesis document

United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) New York.