It is sadly still common to find child miners across Africa, even though many countries have laws making such work illegal. Mining is extremely dangerous for children, yet there are still thousands of children being exploited and working illegally in small scale mines in Africa. They are not only working above ground, but also underground where they are at risk of rock falls, tunnel collapses and dangerous chemicals, gasses and dust. The conditions above ground are not much better either, with children working in the heat doing strenuous heavy labour jobs, not suited for children.
The conditions that miners are working in in many of the mines in Africa are not suitable for adults let alone for children, who are especially vulnerable to dust, gasses and chemicals because their systems are still developing. Forced to spend hours a day in dark cramped and dank mines filled with poisonous chemicals and gasses, children’s health and safety are severely compromised. Children suffer with respiratory conditions, as well as having their hearing and eyesight affected. There are various other physical ailments that these children suffer from apart from the mental anguish they suffer from working in these dangerous, unpleasant environments. Children in parts of Africa are used in all aspects of mining including the rock breaking, transporting of minerals and the crushing and pounding. Children are also popular in mines because they are small; and are able to move around the narrow tunnels and shafts more easily than adults are able to.
Some of these children are trafficked to mine sites where they are forced to work, others drop out of school lured by the little money they will receive, and yet others work side by side with their families as poverty forces them into this life. Although children work as long and hard as many of the adults they do not get paid as much, and are often exploited. There are also many cases where children are not paid at all but work in exchange for shelter, food and water.
Poor living and working conditions mean that children are exposed to diseases and infection, mainly caused by dirty water and lack of sanitation. Dysentery, diarrhoea, malnutrition and other parasitic infections are rampant. The working hours are long with children working in some areas up to 12 or 14 hours a day. They normally do not have enough to eat or access to clean drinking water.
The numbers of children working in mining worldwide is massive. A report by Mining.com in October 2012 stated that according to the United Nations International Labour Organization (ILO) that up to one million children aged as young as 5, worked for small-scale mining and quarrying operations around the world. It also stated that things in Africa were particularly bad where more than a quarter of the world’s child labourers live.
According to the World Vision organisation there are an estimated 215 million child labourers in the world, with some 115 million of them working in especially hazardous conditions, with one of these hazardous areas being in the mines. An estimated 40% of artisanal miners in the Democratic Republic of Congo are children. Some children were interviewed by World Vision at a mine site in Katanga province of the southern DRC. 19% of the children interviewed said they had seen a child die on an artisanal mining site. 87% experienced body pain and many had been injured. 67% reported frequent or persistent coughing.
For less than $2 a day children as young as 5 spend 12 – 15 hours a day working in mines. Much of the time these children are orphaned from various wars and conflicts that persist in many areas of Africa, and are drawn to the mines out of desperation and for survival.
Most of the children that do survive into adulthood remain uneducated and impoverished and many continue working in the mines their whole lives. Many die young because of accidents or illnesses bought on from working in the mines, or are injured and not able to work anymore. These children have no childhood, they have no time to play or go on holidays with their families, and they are denied the right to an education. These children are being robbed of their childhood, very sad, and an issue that urgently needs to be addressed.