Côte d'Ivoire

A weight lifted from their shoulders 

Giving girls the chance to trade child labour for education


Located on a dusty pavement of one of Yamoussoukro’s main roads, a sewing workshop stands out from the myriad of hardware stores and fruit stalls.

Sitting in the shade of a tin-roofed sewing shop, wearing a traditional shirt in pink and yellow, Khalifa Traore loads a bobbin of thread into one of his sewing machines. Five young people work with him, including his daughter and two former tantie bagage who traded a life of heavy lifting at the market for literacy, vocational training, and the prospect of better employment.

Tantie bagage is a widespread child labour practice in Côte d’Ivoire and involves mostly young girls, aged six to 18 years, who carry heavy loads for other people to earn some money to support their families or help pay for school.

“One of the greatest challenges to addressing child labour in Côte d’Ivoire is the complex web of reasons why children work and the inextricable link to poverty," says Mamadou Diakite, who heads the SOS family strengthening program in Yamoussoukro. "Causes may vary from community, and even from family, and are often not due to one specific factor.” 

SOS Children’s Villages started a project in 2017 to help the tantie bagage children. Around 50 young girls are participating in the vocational training opportunities it provides, with a further 25 girls expected to join later.

The community-based approach has started to show encouraging results for both parents and their children.

Traore, one of the first business owners to support the project, says that when the girls started working for him, it was not easy for them to divide their time between literacy classes and vocational learning. "I could sense that there was still pressure from the parents to get back to working as a tantie bagage," he says. "But, as time went by, the girls started to be more confident and parents more receptive to change.” 

The first step in tackling the problem is to identify young girls working as tantie bagage and to convince their families to abandon that practice, and let them join the Institut de Formation et d’Education Féminine [Women’s Training and Education Institute], explains SOS co-worker Diakite. The institute focuses exclusively on empowering women and welcomes victims of domestic violence and neglect, tantie bagage and school dropouts alike.

Depending on their level of education, students remain in the institute for three to five years dividing their time between literacy classes, life skills and vocational training, both at the institute and at a partnering business, such as Traore’s sewing workshop. In this way, the students switch back and forth between the classroom and hands-on work.

In the meantime, families are encouraged to join a village savings and loan association (VSLA), made up of 15 to 25 community members who save money together and then take small loans from the collection. The VSLA provides a simple way of saving and accessing credit in a community that does not have easy access to formal financial services.

The self-nominated individuals in the VSLA meet weekly and save through the purchase of shares. The price of a share is decided by the group. At each meeting, every member must purchase between one and five shares. The system is very simple, but the result is powerful. By saving more frequently and in small amounts, low-income families can build their savings more easily, which contributes to improved household finances.

“Not being a tantie bagage anymore was difficult, but now I feel more confident for the future and for my family. In a few years, I hope to start my own business,” says Mimi, looking at a poster showing dozens of clothing combinations she is determined to master one day. Her twin sister, Nafissatou*, is also part of the program and is learning hairdressing.

There are no easy solutions to a challenge as complex as tantie bagage. Putting an end to this practice requires action on many fronts: advocacy, a willingness to challenge the status quo, and an integrated approach in order to make sustainable, lasting gains for children and communities.

*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of the child

Photos by Sébastien Taylor

Source: SOS Children's Villages International

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