Children face tough choices in Burkina Faso

Children face tough choices in Burkina Faso

Children face tough choices in Burkina Faso

When children in West Africa migrate in search of work they are often seen as victims of trafficking - vulnerable adolescents trapped in the worst forms of child labour. Child migrants are rarely permitted to explain their motives for moving to rural towns and urban areas.

A report from the University of Sussex,in the UK,presents a more nuanced view of child labour migration within and outside Burkina Faso.The author draws attention to adolescents’ own rationales, choices andstrategies to get money and to meet family expectations.

Some argue that children who work inunregulated and unsafe workshops are, in effect, slaves. It is true that in Burkina Fasoapprentices do not receive a salary. However, they are free to leave and cannotbe described as working under slavery-like conditions.

It is common in much of West Africa for girls (andsometimes boys) from the age of seven or eight to be recruited by a distantrelative or someone from their village to work in a relative’s house or for someoneelse whom the relative knows. Many believe this is akin to child traffickingand exploitation, because these children often work long hours for a nominalwage, if any.

However, the belief that children and youth outsidethe formal education system are ready candidates for trafficking and exploitation,or that they may turn into petty criminals, rebels or political dissidents, ignoresthe complex social and economic circumstances that structure young people’sopportunities to work and to learn.

The author shows that it is unfair to blame parentsfor not appreciating education and encouraging children to drop out and seekwork. School is often unappealing because teachers are absent, use excessivecorporal punishment, and demand informal fees. In addition, young people oftencannot find work even if they do complete their schooling.

Further findings include:

  • Policymakers in Burkina Faso haveembraced a globalised concept of childhood which puts all young people in onecategory and ignores their needs and the validation they can gain from wagedwork.
  • Because of a blinkeredofficial view of what constitutes child trafficking those who assist willingyoung relatives to find work may be condemned as traffickers.

It is important to note that adolescents donot abide passively with adults’ strategies but make their own decisions aboutmigration and work. It is crucial to engage them in any discussion of acceptable forms ofwork for children of different ages.

Theauthor also calls on policymakers to:

  • understand that learning-by-doing is at the core of children’ssocialisation
  • address the shortcomings of the formal educational system and meet ruralpeople’s needs for basic literacy and numeracy
  • ensure that apprenticeships lead to viable job opportunities
  • support training for youth so that they can establish their own businesses
  • address gender inequalities by providing remunerated employment opportunitiesto adolescent girls, while at the same time protecting their respectability andsecuring their family’s approval
  • provide basic literacy and numeracy classes for workingyoung people in a flexible manner which also allows them time to earn money forfood and accommodation.

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