Deep in Côte d'Ivoire's cocoa belt, the small village of T. lies quiet during the day. With all the men and women in the fields, the 300 or so mudbrick houses mostly stand empty.
Some of the children go to the local school. To reach it, they walk along the village's heavily potholed, unsurfaced roads. The few cars that do pass through have to slow down to a crawl.
Not every child goes to school though. Although primary education is technically compulsory in Côte d'Ivoire, dropout rates are high and many children never enroll to start with. Fees, uniforms and basic equipment are often beyond parents' financial means, particularly in large families.
That's exactly what happened to 10-year-old Adissa Bancé. "I have nine children," her mother Aliman explains. "Three boys and six girls. Adissa was the eighth. We couldn't afford to send her to school."
'Child labor' definition changes
Yet Aliman couldn't leave Adissa alone all day in the village either. So like most other mothers in the village, she took her daughter to the field with her. She had been doing this since Adissa was a baby tied to her back, so it was all Adissa ever knew.
Her school starting age came and went. By the age of ten, Adissa was too old to enroll.
Adissa's father is a cocoa grower supplying Nestlé, but Aliman grows Arachis (peanut plants). She would give Adissa little tasks to do around her field to keep her occupied. Aliman would then either sell the nuts or crush them into a paste, to cook dishes like Kedjenou – a spicy slow-cooked stew.
Aliman didn't realize that asking Adissa to help her weed the field with a 'daba' (a small wooden hoe) constituted child labor. Indeed, children were allowed to use this tool, until a law change in Côte d'Ivoire in 2017 prohibited the use of sharp tools by children.
It was Samou Sidi who spotted Adissa weeding her mother's field. He is one of 1,640 Community Liaison Officers who keep contact with the families of over 86,000 children in Côte d'Ivoire on Nestlé's behalf, as part of our system to fight child labor. If they identify child labor then we intervene to stop it, giving kids help to attend school, training, or family support.
Excelling in school
Samou told Adissa's parents that the Nestlé Cocoa Plan and The Jacobs Foundation, had just opened a 'bridging school' in the village. He offered to fill out her enrolment form.
A bridging school delivers two years of the national curriculum in just nine months, helping children who haven't been able to attend school back into the education system. Class sizes are small and the educational standard of the kids leaving is high. Generally, they integrate well into the mainstream schools system when they leave, despite years of missed education.
Adissa excelled in the bridging school, and moved into a mainstream school the following year. Her current teacher's face lights up when he talks about her progress.
"She's a brilliant student," he says. "The results are clear to see. Overall, she had the second-best grades in the class last year. She loves verbal exercises and maths the most." Reflecting on Adissa's progress, Aliman smiles. "I'm so happy she goes to school now," she sighs. "I really am." One year on, Adissa is still in school and excelling in her studies.
Read Nestlé's 2019 'Tackling Child Labor' report (pdf, 4Mb) for more on how the company is tackling child labor.