Counterpart join US Labor Dept to combat underage labour

By Freddie Pierce
Follow @Ella_Copeland A new campaign has launched to protect youth from the worst forms of underage labour in the impoverished West African nation of B...

A new campaign has launched to protect youth from the worst forms of underage labour in the impoverished West African nation of Burkina Faso, offering educational incentives for children and alternate livelihoods for their families, according to the nonprofit organization Counterpart.

The four year $5 million programme, which is supported by the U.S. Labor Department's Bureau of International Affairs, is expected to directly benefit 1,000 households and prevent more than 10,000 children working in cotton production and gold mines in three western regions.

"Unfortunately, young children are sent to work in cotton fields and gold mines in order to support their families," says Tim Ogborn, Senior Vice President of Programs at the nonprofit Counterpart. "This initiative seeks to break that cycle by providing economic alternatives."

In Burkina Faso – a landlocked country about the size of Colorado and the largest producer of cotton in Africa – almost 40 percent of children aged 5 to 14 are estimated to be in the labor force, many in high-risk industries where forced labor is present. A 2012 U.S. Labor Department report names the cotton and gold mining as sectors of concern.

Burkina Faso is one of the poorest countries in the world, ranking 181 out of 187 on the United Nations Development Program's 2011 Human Development Index.

Improved monitoring

A cornerstone of the program will engage community organizations to strengthen the country's framework for monitoring and tracking child labor.

"Without reliable monitoring and reporting, the country cannot effectively address the child labor practices in the cotton and gold mining industries," says Ogborn. "When in place, this will be a huge step forward and will ensure sustainability of the fight against child labor."

Ogborn notes that improved monitoring in West Africa affects consumers in other countries.

"Today, more customers in the United States, Europe and elsewhere are asking tough questions about the source of materials in the products they purchase. It is important that companies know what is happening in their supply chain," he says.

The program will also raise awareness of the problem among families and employers in Burkina Faso, and will invest in social protection mechanisms for children who have been removed from the work force, and those at risk of entering it.

Counterpart will work in partnership with Terre des Hommes, a well-respected Swiss nongovernmental organization that has been active in Burkina Faso since 1986. The program will collaborate with Burkina Faso's government, private sector and primary cotton union among other partners.

Counterpart will address the key drivers of child labor in three key regions of Burkina Faso—Boucle du Mouhoun, Cascades and Hauts-Bassins. Future expansion of the program could include additional regions, countries and industries.

"We would like to see this model replicated in other parts of Burkina Faso and eventually taken to other countries," says Ogborn.

Counterpart has extensive experience in addressing the immediate, fundamental livelihoods and educational needs of vulnerable populations, particularly in six countries of West Africa, and brings a strong focus on institutional partnerships and strengthening local organizations and communities.

About Counterpart International

Counterpart International is a global development organization that works in partnership to empower people, communities and institutions to drive and sustain their own development. It is currently working in 23 countries.


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