Togo: Raising awareness is the key to combating child labour

published 14 June 2024 updated 20 June 2024

A pilot project carried out by the Fédération des Syndicats de l'Education Nationale (Federation of National Education Unions - FESEN) in the region of Sotouboua, in central Togo, is helping to change attitudes so that child labour is no longer considered acceptable. Agricultural and domestic work are the main activities that hinder children's schooling in this region.

The project began in 2019 with training for teachers, school management committees, and community leaders. One of the key elements of the training is the distinction between (prohibited) child labour and socialising work, which does not have a negative impact on children’s schooling, health, or personal development.

These training sessions make teachers and principals aware of the role they can play in eradicating child labour in their communities. “As soon as a pupil drops out of school, we go and meet his family”, explains Panadèma Bayabenze, a teacher at the Mèwèdè village school. “Before this union project, we were not as responsive as we have become. Parents often don't realise the dangers their children may face when they drop out of school. We also use every school general assembly, when all the parents are together, to raise their awareness on this”.

Convincing the parents

Raising community awareness on the importance of education is one of the keys to the success of the FESEN project. “Many parents have never been to school and therefore don't know the value of education," explains a member of the school management committee in the village of Mèwèdè. “The FESEN workshop gave us new arguments when we talk to them. For example: you don't just go to school in the hope of becoming a civil servant, you also go for yourself, for your personal development, and even to become a better local farmer".

Village committees to combat child labour are set up in the localities where FESEN develops its projects. Their members are the most influential people, such as village chiefs, or those most interested in becoming involved on behalf of children. They help teachers to raise awareness of the risks of dropping out of school. “The project has made us aware of the need for every child to stay in school," explains Sangbalao Pouwèdéo, Toukoudjou village chief. “Before the project, when a child dropped out of school, we spoke to the parents, but only informally. After our training, it's more systematic: when a child drops out, we go and find the parents and raise awareness. A lot of children have come back to school as a result.”

The unions are also training teachers in the project area on national and international standards relating to children's rights, and on more attractive and inclusive teaching methods. Emphasis is placed on the abandonment of corporal punishment. This training is particularly useful for community teachers who are recruited from the villages to make up for the shortage of qualified teachers.     

Involving students in the effort to eliminate child labour

Anti-child labour clubs have been set up in the project schools. The pupils who are members of these clubs are supervised by a teacher trained by FESEN, and they develop artistic activities (street theatre, songs, dances, poems) that raise awareness of children's rights and the importance of education. Through their personal contacts, the pupils help to convince working children in the community to return to school. "When a member of the club notices that a child is being exploited through labour, he or she informs the teachers, or a member of the village committee to combat child labour, and we then take over from that pupil to contact the child's family," explains Panadèma Bayabenze.

Between 2019 and 2023, 137 children were able to leave work and return to school thanks to the FESEN project. All benefited from remedial classes to catch up with colleagues their age. The project involved 9 schools in this period. FESEN and its international partners are extending the project to 9 additional schools in the same region in 2024-2025.

Advocating for school canteens

Over the next two years, the union will also be stepping up its advocacy for the development of school canteens. Set up in the Mèwèdè school thanks to the mobilisation of teachers and communities, the first canteen already feeds 195 children every day. It plays a key role in attracting the poorest children to school and preventing them from dropping out.

The development of such projects also enables the union to strengthen its social dialogue with local authorities. In the canton of Kazaboua, the pilot project developed by FESEN in four schools has been extended by the authorities to the whole canton. Lanto Akaba-Abalo, chief of the Kazaboua canton: "This project had achieved impressive results in the pilot schools, including a drastic reduction in school dropouts. So I set up village committees, raised awareness and trained the head teachers of the six other schools in the canton to follow suit. Today, not a single child drops out of the 10 primary schools in my canton. The awareness-raising carried out by everyone has also helped to reduce the number of cases of child abuse throughout the canton".

Nine-year-old Amele lives in the village of Mèwèdè and dropped out of school in 2023, at the beginning of her second year of primary school.

The village committee to combat child labour contacted the teacher trained by FESEN in her school to explain why she had dropped out: Amele's mother had left home to go and live in the north of the country, leaving her alone with her two brothers aged 12 and 13. Her father had already left the family and Amele has no other relatives in the village. With no adults around, Amele left school to devote herself to household chores.

Panadèma Bayabenze, the teacher in charge of the FESEN project at the Mèwèdè school, went to Amele's home. He spoke to her gently, without the slightest reproach, based on the advice he had received at the union training course. He bought her a notebook and managed to convince her to come back to school every day. He explains: "The school canteen developed as a result of the FESEN project was a powerful argument in convincing Amele to come back to school: here, at least, she can be sure of having a good meal every day".

The FESEN project is implemented with the support of Education International, AOb, Mondiaal FNV (The Netherlands), and the GEW Fair Childhood Foundation (Germany).