ABIDJAN (Reuters) - Twenty-two people accused of trafficking children to work on cocoa farms in Ivory Coast have received prison sentences of up to 20 years, prosecutors said on Wednesday.
The case follows the rescue by police this month of 68 children working on cocoa farms, most of whom had been transported from neighbouring Burkina Faso, according to the Ivorian authorities.
Ivory Coast is the world's top cocoa producer and is under pressure, including from the European Union, to crack down on practices that have led to nearly 1 million children working in the sector.
The police operation was the first since 2014 to target Soubre, at the heart of the cocoa belt. Work has been hampered by a lack of funds, according to police in charge of the special unit on child labour.
Brahima Coulibaly, a member of the national monitoring committee on child labour, told Reuters that efforts to tackle the problem were bearing fruit. Of 600 prosecutions of child traffickers between 2012 and 2020, half took place in 2020, he said.
Of 24 accused after the latest raid, five received 20-year sentences, 17 received 5-year terms and two were released, the prosecutor's office for the regional court of Soubre said in a statement.
One of those facing 20 years is the purported uncle of one the rescued children, who said he had been brought by his father from Burkina Faso at the age of 13 to work on his uncle's cocoa plantation.
(Reporting by Ange Aboa; Writing by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Giles Elgood)