– 7 March 2019
Mimi trades child labour for an education
Friday, 8 March is International Women’s Day – a day to celebrate women's achievements, raise awareness against bias and take action for equality.
Mimi is a former tantie bagage. Now 17 years old, she spent much of her childhood carrying staggeringly heavy loads, for very little pay.
Tantie bagage is a common child labour practice amongst girls in Cote D’Ivoire. Children as young as six-years-old work at train stations transporting the luggage of wealthy travellers and at marketplaces unloading heavy goods and wares. The work is dangerous, leaving them vulnerable to abuse and trafficking – but for most it is the only way they can support their families or pay for their education.
“I started working as a tantie bagage when I was ten years old,” Mimi told us.
“I helped customers carry their groceries, with loads sometimes more than 50 kilograms. I worked six days a week and on a lucky day, I could earn up to 1,500 francs (€ 2.29).”
Most young girls who work as a tantie bagage come from low-income families and have limited access to education. Unable to make ends meet or see the direct benefits of education, parents in Cote D’Ivoire often pull their children out of school and send them to work from a very young age.
An SOS Children’s Villages project in Cote D’Ivoire is offering girls the chance to trade a life of heavy lifting at the market for literacy, vocational training, and the prospect of better employment. The project identifies young girls working as tantie bagage and encourages their families to let them join the Women’s Training and Education Institute.
The institute focuses exclusively on empowering women and girls, and welcomes victims of domestic violence and neglect, tantie bagage and school dropouts. Around 50 young girls are participating in the vocational training opportunities it provides, with a further 25 girls expected to join later.
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. In this way, the students switch back and forth between the classroom and hands-on work.
The community-based approach has started to show encouraging results for both children and their parents.
Khalifa Traore was one of the first business owners to support the project. At his sewing workshop in Yamoussoukro, two former tantie bagage children are learning skills which will help them to build successful careers of their own.
He says that when the girls first started 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 become more confident and their parents more receptive to change.”
Girls enrolled at the Institut de Formation et d’Education Féminine in Côte D’Ivoire through the SOS female empowerment programme. The institute’s motto is emblazoned on its walls - ‘To educate a woman is to educate a nation’
Families are also encouraged to join a local savings and loan association where community members can save money together and then take small loans from the collection. The association provides a simple way of saving and accessing credit in a community that does not have easy access to formal financial services.
Members meet weekly and save through the purchase of shares, with the price of a share decided by the group. The system is incredibly simple, but the results are powerful. By saving more frequently and in small amounts, low-income families can build their savings and improve their household finances.
“Not being a tantie bagage anymore was difficult,” Mimi admits, “but now I feel more confident for the future and for my family. In a few years I hope to start my own business.”
Her twin sister, Nafissatou, is also part of the programme and is learning hairdressing.
There are no easy solutions to a challenge as complex as tantie bagage.
As Mamadou Diakite, who runs the SOS family strengthening programme in Yamoussoukro, explains: “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. Causes may vary between communities, and even between families, and are often not due to one specific factor.”
But by working with families and communities to reduce poverty and challenge the status quo, projects like this offer girls the chance to trade child labour for an education and a better future.