Ivory Coast arrests three suspected child traffickers in cocoa belt

Ange Aboa
·2-min read

By Ange Aboa

ABIDJAN (Reuters) - Ivory Coast police have arrested three suspected child traffickers in the western town of Soubre, the centre of its cocoa-growing region, a police official said on Friday.

The three Burkinabe nationals were taken into custody at a roadblock on Thursday when their bus was stopped for routine controls, said police commissioner Luc Zaka, who heads a specialized unit dealing with child labour.

Three children from neighbouring Burkina Faso were found with them and taken away, he told Reuters.

Burkinabe nationals are routinely found working on farms across Ivory Coast, the world's top cocoa grower, which has struggled to stamp out child labour for years.

Last week police arrested four suspected traffickers and rescued 19 children in the southeastern town of Aboisso.

"We are doing everything we can to reduce this issue but because of COVID, we had to stop our operations in the cocoa production regions," said Zaka.

"Despite the borders being closed and people being contagious (with COVID-19), they continue to travel to Ivory Coast," he said.

Last year a U.S. report found that child labour had increased on cocoa farms in Ivory Coast and Ghana over the past decade despite industry pledges to stamp it out.

The two West African countries together produce about two-thirds of the world's cocoa, mostly grown by small family farmers. When schools shut because of the coronavirus pandemic last year, experts warned that child labour would probably increase.

Ivorian police received additional funding in 2020 to tackle child labour and opened six operational centres in cocoa-growing areas and near the Burkina Faso border, said Zaka.

"This year, we're planning two operations to track the traffickers and get children out of the cocoa fields."

(Reporting by Ange Aboa; Editing by Nellie Peyton and Mark Heinrich)