Microsavings & Education Are Fighting Child Labor in Ghana

Microsavings & Education Are Fighting Child Labor in Ghana

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Maria Hinson

Around the world there are 168 million child laborers and nearly 100 million of those children work in the agriculture sector. While the persistence of child labor cannot be explained by one single variable, children’s role in the labor force is “endlessly varied and infinitely volatile, responding to changing market and social conditions”.  Poverty, perpetuated by lack of economic opportunity and low wages, is a main driver of child labor and until parents are able to generate a living income children will continue to be used to provide additional economic support for their families. In recent years increased demand for cocoa has hit agriculture dependent communities hard, particularly in Ghana where much of the world’s cocoa production is sourced. A 2013 national survey in Ghana reports 30.2% of children in rural areas aged 5-17 were engaged in child labor and 20% engaged in hazardous forms of child labor. With image, industry standards, and values in mind, companies are increasingly focused on sustainability and child labor prevention in all stages of their cocoa supply chains. Preventing and remediating child labor, however, is not an easy task and companies must be willing to adapt to and navigate through often difficult cultural contexts such as Ghana.

Key actors like the International Labor Organization and International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour have identified education as a critical element to any effective programmatic child labor elimination efforts and have demonstrated how education can be used to combat it. With education as a focus, and poverty at the center of child labor issues in agriculture dependent communities, Cargill partnered with CARE in 110 cocoa farming communities in Ghana to promote more prosperous, sustainable, and resilient livelihoods. The program, PROCOCO, employed a multi-sectoral community development approach that sought to advocate education, increase awareness of child labor within cocoa communities, and to prevent child labor in its entirety. PROCOCO aimed to increase access to economic opportunity and improve financial stability within homes so that parents would no longer need to use their children to supplement their incomes. The program provided farmers with the skills needed to manage their financial resources because when people are empowered to and educated on how to make financial decisions, they prioritize their families.

So what happened? In a series of in-depth interviews with seven female cocoa farmers, CARE asked each woman about her life before being involved in the project and her life after she became involved with the project. The questions were focused on economic opportunity and access to savings, loans, and credit through rural savings groups promoted by the project called Village, Savings, and Loans Associations (VSLAs). This model harnesses the ancient practices of group savings in a way that requires no outside capital, only a lock box, three keys and basic financial training. 

Seven women discussed their lives as female cocoa farmers in rural Ghana, describing their lives prior to their involvement in PROCOCO program as “bad,” “challenging,” and “financially difficult” – unable to take care of their families. One challenge many farmers face, especially women farmers, is access to savings, loans, and other sources of credit. Farmers are often faced with financial capital constraints before harvesting their crops; they frequently need to take loans to support themselves until the next harvest yet lack of information, high interest rates, lack of collateral to take loans, and loan sharks are barriers to farmers’ ability to access financial resources. Rebecca O., a small-holder farmer from the Ahafo Ano North region, described her life before:

“It was not economically sound. I led a miserable life. It was so difficult to meet basic needs at home.”

- Rebecca O., Ahafo Ano North

The tone changed dramatically when the women responded to questions about their lives after joining the VSLA. When asked the first question, “How are you living now that you participate in VSLA?” the answers were all positive. They spoke of improved conditions, improved finances, and changes in living conditions. All of the women stated that their relationships had improved.  When asked about their financial situation they mentioned they have been able to invest in their own businesses, are able to save, emphasizing their ability to pay children’s school fees.

“My life has improved because I do not struggle to care for my family now. I am in a better position to take care of my children by giving them the best education.  I can do all this because I am a member of VSLA.”

- Vida N., Abehenase

“Now that I am a member of VSLA everything is going well. I am able to pay my children’s school fees. I am able to pay my house bills without problems. I am actually enjoying life.”

- Rebecca O., Ahafo Ano North

VSLAs provided them with an opportunity to take control—to have access to capital to invest in their businesses, improve their livelihoods, and to invest in their families’ futures. Farmers chose to send their children to school and to give them a brighter future because they were afforded opportunities and services that were frequently unoffered and inaccessible. By alleviating the financial burden on households, the program overcame a barrier to accessing education for children who may have been engaged in child labor.

Want to learn more?

Read about how VSLAs changed lives in the PROCOCO VSLA Case Study.

About the Author

Maria Hinson is the Technical Specialist for the Food and Nutrition Security Unit at CARE USA. She has three years of experience in global health and international development, working with communities to improve ongoing program interventions. She has a Master’s in Global Health from the University of Notre Dame.


Julette Konaou (right), 12 and Lordina Anane, 11, stand outside of the primary school in Bosomkyekye, Ghana.