Lifting Elephants in Burkina Faso

July 20, 2016

‘If the ants get together, they can lift an elephant.’ -Burkinabé Saying

Children cling tightly to hand turned ropes as they descend 30 meters or more into the reddish-brown earth. Sliding slowly down tight and dark mine shafts, the dim light from their flashlight breaks the darkness. Once they reach the bottom of the mine, they maneuver their nimble figures through narrow tunnels and begin digging. They are in search of one of the most sought after items on the planet: gold.

Children working in gold mines are exposed to cyanide and mercury, putting them at risk for serious health issues.

Children working in gold mines are exposed to cyanide and mercury, putting them at risk for serious health issues.

Today, nearly 41 percent of Burkinabé children aged 5-17 are working, many in the gold mines. While some make the treacherous descent into the earth, others use chemicals like mercury and cyanide on the surface to separate the gold from the ore. Counterpart International partnered with local communities in the Boucle de Mouhoun, Cascades and Hauts-Bassins regions to catalyze a solution this child labor crisis.

In December of 2012, the Reducing Child Labor through Education & Services (RCLES) program was launched to address the crisis at all levels — through engagement with families, schools, communities and government (including the Labor; Women, Solidarity and Family; Education; Human Rights; and Health ministries). The program’s goal is to protect 10,000 children (6,000 in the mines and 4,000 at-risk).

By raising awareness about the devastating effects of child labor, the program helped create Social Protection Networks of community volunteers, teachers and government officials to help get children out of the mines and to prevent at-risk children from ever getting there. As of today, more than 7,800 children destined for the mines are now enrolled in school, remediation programs or vocational trainings, with nearly half of these children, girls. Through the Social Protection Networks, children are monitored in 242 schools to ensure they stay in school.

Counterpart has also helped launch the Child Labor Monitoring System – a one-of-kind system in Burkina Faso, now in the beta testing phase. This system will help people report child labor to local authorities who then work with appropriate officials and the Social Protection Networks to address the issue and return children to school.

After years of effort, in May of 2016 our local partners successfully enrolled the government in taking steps to address child labor. The Council of Ministers adopted a new decree focusing on the list of dangerous work not permitted for children in Burkina Faso. The decree specifically called out the RCLES project.

Mr. Alassane Traore, a Director in the Ministry of Public Function, Labor and Social Protection acknowledged that, “I have great hope in the continuation of collaboration … in monitoring of child labor in Burkina Faso., which will enable us to make notable advances in the fight against the worst forms of child labor in the country.”

Because poverty is the root cause of child labor, RCLES also provides livelihood training to 1,500 adults in the three regions, to increase opportunities for employment and income. Now, 89 percent of households receiving the training are engaged in livelihoods activities.

47 percent of families have increased assets, and 49 percent now have all their children in school.

From the families, to the schools, to community leaders, to government officials, the RCLES program increases awareness about child labor, engages partners in the effort to protect children and builds community networks to carry the work forward.


The program is well on the way of meeting the goal of protecting 10,000 children. A famous saying in Burkina Faso tells us that, “If the ants get together, they can lift an elephant.” And it is in partnership, that we are doing just that.

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