By Jennifer Brookland
For many children in Burkina Faso, childhood is inseparable from laborious adulthood. Instead of cups of lemonade, these children pour toxic chemicals onto acres of sunbaked cotton fields. Instead of tugging a wagon they struggle to pull sacks of gold ore up unforgiving tawny hillsides. Their toys are the sticks and hammers they use to break rocks into smaller rocks into dust.
Almost 38 percent of Burkina Faso’s children are in the workforce, often engaged in forced or hazardous work. Some are as young as four years old.
For the World Day Against Child Labor on June 12, the world turns its attention to these children, and all those around the world who are engaged in work beyond their years.
Counterpart International is honoring the day by participating in a full week of events championed by Burkina Faso’s Ministry of Public Service, Labor and Social Security.
The government is a key partner in Counterpart’s program in the country, Reducing Child Labor through Education and Services, which focuses on removing children from some of the most dangerous and damaging forms of child labor: work in the gold mines and cotton fields.
The five-year initiative, funded by the U.S. Department of Labor, aims to take 4,000 children and youth engaged in exploitative labor out of the workforce and enroll them in educational programs. It will enroll 6,000 children who are at high risk of entering child labor, and develop safe alternative sources of income for 1,000 households.
The program also collaborates with the government and other partners to operationalize a database and monitoring system that can track—and hopefully in the future deter—the use of child labor.
In keeping with the 2013 theme for the World Day Against Child Labor —No Child Labor in Domestic Work—events will raise awareness among employers, unions and children about the rights of domestic workers.
In Burkina Faso, domestic work is the second largest employer of children. The agricultural sector is the first.
Girls already engaged in domestic labor will learn about their rights and responsibilities in the workforce. Primary school students may compete in a drawing contest on the day’s theme. A theater production on the topic will also air on national television, along with public service announcements and radio spots.
Those working on child protection issues will convene for a workshop, and the Minister of Public Service, Labor and Social Security will publish and televise a message on the importance of fighting child labor.
An official ceremony in Diébougou—the main town in Bougouriba Province in Burkina Faso’s South-West region, will cap the eight-day affair.
Once families and employers in Burkina Faso recognize the problem and have options and support for addressing it, millions of children may be lucky enough to have a childhood.