In November 2010, the country held a long-postponed election. Incumbent president Laurent Nbagbo faced challenger Alasane Outarra. Although Outarra won an election that outside observers labeled free and fair, Nbagbo refused to give up his office until May 2011.
The standoff resulted in considerable violence throughout the country as militias on both sides, armed by weapons flowing in from neighboring Liberia, launched attacks in a number of areas. It is estimated that several hundred thousand Ivorians fled to neighboring Liberia for refuge, a country ill-equipped to handle the situation.
The fighting and political stand-off is an aftermath of a long civil war that pitted northerners against southerners, Muslims against Christians, over issues of political control and access to Cote D’Ivoire’s resources and territory.
A second and persistent challenge is the trafficking of women and children which is widespread throughout Cote d’Ivoire. Women and girls are trafficked internally and transnationally for domestic servitude, restaurant labor, forced street vending, and sexual exploitation. Boys are often trafficked for agriculture, service labor, mining, construction, and in the fishing industry.
The vast majority of victims are children. Children are trafficked into the country from Benin, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Mali, Mauritania, and Togo to work as domestic servants, farm laborers, and indentured servants, and for sexual exploitation. There are also reports of Malian boys working on farms and plantations in Cote d’Ivoire under conditions of indentured servitude. Children have been trafficked out of Cote d’Ivoire to other countries in Africa as well as to Europe and the Middle East. Children are also trafficked from all parts of the country into Abidjan and other areas in the south for domestic service. National armed forces and rebel groups often recruit children for use in armed conflict, sometimes on a forced basis. Rebel forces actively recruit child soldiers from refugee camps and other areas in the western part of the country.
Human rights groups have charged that the Cote d’Ivoire government has done very little to decrease or eliminate trafficking. Cote d’Ivoire continually fails to provide evidence of increasing efforts to eliminate trafficking, particularly with regard to its law enforcement efforts and protection of sex trafficking victims. Ivoirian law does not prohibit all forms of human trafficking, and Cote d’Ivoire has not ratified the 2000 United Nations Trafficking-In-Persons Protocol.
Sexual activity is often seen as a private matter, making communities reluctant to act and intervene in cases of sexual exploitation. These attitudes make children more vulnerable to sexual exploitation. Myths such as the belief that HIV/AIDS can be cured through sex with a virgin, technological advances such as the Internet which has facilitated child pornography, and sex tourism targeting children all add to their vulnerability. Surveys indicated that 85% of victims of sex trafficking in Cote d’Ivoire are girls.
Child victims of trafficking are exploited in the country’s agricultural, mining, fishing, and domestic service sectors. The country’s cities and farms provide ample opportunities for traffickers. The informal labor sectors are not regulated under existing labor laws. Domestic workers, most non-industrial farm laborers, and those who work in the country’s wide network of street shops and restaurants remain outside government protection. Girls ranging from 9 to 15 years old are often forced to work as household servants in Abidjan and elsewhere in the more prosperous south Cote d’Ivoire.
Traffickers of local children are often relatives or friends of the victim’s parents. Traffickers sometimes promise parents that the children will learn a trade, but children often end up on the streets as vendors or as domestic servants. Due to the current global economic crisis, many parents allow their children to be exploited.
Children are trafficked to Côte d’Ivoire for forced agricultural work. There are an estimated 15,000 Malian youth ages 15 to 18 who are enslaved in the Cote d’Ivoire, lured by smugglers who promise the youth and their parents high wages and training. Instead, most do manual labor in cocoa plantations. Child agricultural workers are exposed to dangerous pesticides and other hazards in addition to conditions of near-starvation, no education, no health care, and slave labor.
Almost half of the world’s cocoa used in chocolate comes from Cote d’Ivoire, which makes this African country the biggest producer of cocoa worldwide. Most of the laborers on cocoa plantations are between twelve and sixteen years old, some as young as nine. Children do not receive any payment for their labor. They are also often beaten when they don’t work or try to escape. Children are locked-up at night, do not get sufficient nutrition and can work up to 80 to 100 hours per week. It is unknown how many children are enslaved in Cote d’Ivoire. Some estimates state that approximately 15,000 child slaves work on cocoa, cotton, and coffee farms throughout the country.