Bright Appiah: Let me first tell you a bit about what child labor is. Children's work can be seen as a broad spectrum of activities and conditions. Acceptable children's work is on one side, and includes children partaking in light work and chores which are neither harmful, nor interfere with their enjoyment of other rights, such as their schooling. Child labor covers any type of children's work which is undesirable due to its negative impact on the child, whether physical or mental.

There are a number of factors involved in child labor. Often, it is because the dignity of children is not recognized nor respected. Many people are not aware it puts their child's development at risk, as it has been happening for a long time and has become part of their cultural heritage. This is not surprising as many who are parents now also worked on their own families' cocoa farms while growing up. This stems from a lack of economic empowerment and infrastructure. When farmers can't afford to hire help, they rely on their children. And when there is limited access to quality education, children tend to stay working on the farm instead of going to school.

Child labor can have a severe impact, threatening children's physical and mental well-being. It can lead to slower learning, stunted growth, irregular school attendance and more dropouts, to name a few consequences. I believe every child deserves to grow up in a serene environment. Now more than ever, we need to promote and protect the inherent dignity of all children. This is our primary mission at Child Rights International.

Matilda Broni: As one of our cross-cutting themes, this is also a key priority for Cocoa Life. Children in Ghana are intelligent and have the ability to excel, just like any other child in urban or rural areas around the world. But, they have fewer opportunities, so their potential is untapped. The challenges you mentioned, particularly the cultural heritage element, are difficult to overcome because it requires behavior change at all levels of the community.

Our program's integrated community-based approach gets to the underlying root of these issues, driving change to stop this practice. To raise awareness, we're educating and sensitizing parents, teachers and children to the dangers of child labor. To strengthen economic empowerment, we're helping farmers improve their productivity and income. To build capacity in the community, we're improving infrastructures and schools.

Most recently, with you and our other partners, we have established Child Labor Monitoring and Remediation Systems (CLMRS). As part of the CLMRS, Cocoa Life supports communities with tools, expertise and funding. Let's talk more about CLMRS and why they are so crucial.

Bright Appiah: This community-centric approach is why we chose to partner with Cocoa Life. From my experience, CLMRS have been the most effective method of tackling child labor in cocoa communities. What makes it so unique is that each intervention is tailor-made to support communities where they need it most.
Together, through the CLMRS, we work with communities to set up Child Protection Committees, which are directly involved in monitoring and addressing identified cases of child labor. We also collect data for community registers and provide other useful remediation resources. Communities have been receptive to these efforts and are already feeling the impact. Oti Robert, a CCPC member in Pokukrom had this to say "prior to the Cocoa Life Project, we didn't know anything about child protection and how to address these issues but their training enlightened us more on the issues concerning children. After the training, we had a sensitization for the community on the harmful effects of child labour. Now many of the community members understand that child labour is harmful to children. Through the skills we developed from the training, we have formed a girl-child club and we advise the children especially on teenage pregnancy".

Matilda Broni: I have seen this reaction firsthand as well and it's a great feeling. In Ghana, CLMRS have been fully implemented in 116 Cocoa Life communities. Implementation is in progress in another 166 communities, and ultimately we aim to have all Cocoa Life communities covered. We are already seeing positive effects, as communities understand the harmful effect of child labor, take ownership of their children's well-being, take part in remediation, and are better linked to the district authorities in charge of child protection.

Our CLMRS use the tools developed by the government as part of the Ghana Child Labor Monitoring and Remediation System (GCLMRS) and we continue to engage with the government, including the Ministry of Employment and Labour Relations to find ways in which we can help strengthen the GCLMRS.

Moving forward, I believe it is critical for us to invest in expanding community structures through establishing and involvement with School Management Committees, Parent Teacher Associations and Child Protection Committees. People are more likely to change their behavior if they have a better understanding of their environment and the child labor issues facing them. We'll continue developing our community-based approach to ensure we're getting through to them in a meaningful way. Based on your expertise and passion for defending children's rights, what else do you think can be done to further reduce child labor?