Social unrest in the wake presidential election violence in Ivory Coast has compelled thousands of people to flee the region and take refuge in the districts of Danané, Binhouye and Zouan-Hounien or spilling over into neighbouring Liberia. UNICEF estimates that that the effects of the political crisis on human displacement have disproportionately affected children. Roughly 85 per cent of the 36,318 registered Ivorian refugees in Liberia are children. Most of them have been separated from their parents in their flight to safety, while others have been victims of sexual assault. Internally displaced children in the country are at significant risk of trafficking and child labour.
In all situations of natural disasters and civil conflict which lead to social upheaval, unaccompanied minors are extremely vulnerable to human trafficking, child labour and gender-based violence. In Ivory Coast, following the political wrangling that has ensued since the November 2010 Presidential elections and incumbent Laurent Gbagbo’s refusal to step down, there is an emerging humanitarian crisis and fears of renewed civil war. It seems inevitable that this will lead to further increases in the number of children fleeing their homes, communities and possibly their country for their safety.
Global March welcomes the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ initiative to open a new camp for internally displaced persons in the western part of the country to accommodate nearly 6,000 people. It also greatly appreciates the deputation of child protection officers in regions where refugees are being located. “This is a vital move to keep an eye out for the activities of human traffickers and to afford maximum protection to vulnerable people, especially children,” said Global March Chairperson, Kailash Satyarthi. “We also appeal to the high-level panel of the African Union and Mr Gbagbo to make every effort to resolve the ongoing crisis and restore peace to the people of Ivory Coast.”
The cocoa sector in West Africa, in particular Ghana and the Ivory Coast which together account for around 75 per cent of global production, has been tarnished by a high incidence of child labour and trafficking of children to work on plantations. However, significant efforts by industry and non-industry partners, including through the multi-stakeholder initiative the International Cocoa Initiative and programmes supported the International Labour Organization (ILO), have helped to tackle the issue and assisted cocoa communities in a variety of ways, such as improving access to and quality of education. Global March fears that the current political crisis in Ivory Coast could set back progress made in tackling child labour in Ivory Coast and urges the international community to work together with the African Union and different political factions in Ivory Coast to restore peace.