Child labour in Ivory Coast an ongoing problem

While reports last month of a ship carrying hundreds of children into slavery in West Africa proved to be an exaggeration, economic conditions in the region make child labour an ongoing problem.

Ivory Coast alone has up to 15,000 children working in the country's plantations.

At cocoa and corn plantations in southern Ivory Coast, children work long hours under severe conditions. It's difficult to tell if the children have been abducted and forced into labour.

Many say they have come from Burkino Faso one of the poorest countries in West Africa to the more affluent Ivory Coast for a better life.

Felix Akebo is working for UNICEF in Ivory Coast. He doesn't like to use the word slavery but he does say there is extensive child labour.

"Parents make the children work because the level of poverty is very high," he explains.

A good harvest of cocoa can bring a plantation owner up to $1,000 a year. The crop's profit margin for farmers is small.

"This year I haven't been able to employ workers because I don't have money," said farmer Abdulaye Oudrago.

He has children working on his field because they don't cost anything.

In a country where the poverty rate is about 40 per cent, children are cheap labour.

Oudrago doesn't have the means to transport cocoa to the city where the prices are more favourable. He sells his cocoa to a middleman with transportation who then sells to the exporters, at a much higher price.

In the Ivorian capital Abidjan, more children are working, selling Kleenex, or shining shoes, trying to make a living which worries aid workers.

"If they're not being paid, if they don't have access to school, if they don't have the basic rights of a child to grow up, that's exploitation," said Carol Jeanson, a co-ordinator for UNICEF.

Ladji, a 10-year-old Nigerian, has been selling tissues for at least three years, making less than $2 a day.

"I have to work, to help my mom," he says.

The root of the problem is severe poverty. Until poverty is addressed, child labour will remain.