An estimated 1 million children worldwide work as miners. These are 10 facts about child miners in the world today:
- Child miners can be found in parts of Asia, Africa, Latin America and Europe. Most of these children, from economically downtrodden backgrounds, are either uneducated or school-dropouts, with the exception of a few who attend both work and school. They work in inhumane and dangerous conditions to extract minerals and ores in high demand in the global market.
- Mining is considered one of the worst forms of child labor as the hazardous working conditions in mines adversely affect the safety and health of children.
- One of the facts about child miners working in the artisanal mines of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is they contribute to the production of cobalt, coltan, copper and tin. These materials are used in the fabrication processes of modern electronics like laptops and cell phones. Of the 2 million miners in DRC’s artisanal mines, 40 percent are children and their earnings range from $0.75 to $3 a day. In 2017, Amnesty International warned the world of the use of child labor in cobalt mining and urged large companies to be wary of purchasing unethically mined cobalt.
- Poverty, lack of educational and economic opportunities, corruption, lenient law-enforcement and the soaring demands for mined materials in the global market are primary reasons for the prevalence of child labor in mines.
- Cobalt mining often involves injuries, death and health hazards. Stone mining causes dehydration, respiratory infections and accidents. Gold mining exposes children to toxic vapors and mercury-poisoning, and mining salt exposes child miners to dizziness, skin problems and iris discoloration.
- Stone quarries in Guatemala are often found along public shores, where poor families set up camps to mine volcanic river rocks. These are then sold to construction companies at low prices. According to reports by the International Labour Organization (ILO), it takes three days for a 13-year-old boy to produce one cubic meter of gravel that sells for $7.50. Children as young as five are found collecting and breaking rocks with hammers in these mines. Both adults and children work eight hours a day, six to seven days a week. The quarries in Nepal are reported to have child miners between ages 10 to 12. Girls and boys in Madagascar’s stone quarries also work long hours collecting and crushing blocks of stones.
- Of the 10 facts about child miners in the world, gold mining deserves a special mention as it exposes children to mercury-poisoning, which is extremely likely due to the nature of gold extraction. Child gold miners are often found in the Sahel region of Africa (mainly in Burkina Faso and Niger). High levels of poverty in the region forces families to send children under 18 to work in the mines. They constitute 30 to 50 percent of the entire gold-mining workforce. These children work with heavy and primitive equipment to break rocks and transport them to washing, crushing and mineral processing. Children often work underground in narrow shafts and galleries.
- The ILO estimates 10,000 children are involved in gold mining in Ghana and more than 65,000 children work in the mines of Bolivia, Peru and Equador. According to a study by the International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC), many instances of illegal mining occur in Côte d’Ivoire, where children are often trafficked from neighboring areas and held in slavery-like conditions. Mongolia and the Philippines are some of the other countries with child miners.
- IPEC has been working hard to ensure that children in areas like Niger and Senegal are protected from joining the salt mining business. A highly labor-intensive process, mining salt includes harvesting (digging pits, filling and lifting sacks) and distilling salt alongside transporting ore and fuel to aid the process. Children participate in all stages of salt mining.
- Child labor is also widely used in the mica mining industry in India and Madagascar; talc mining in Brazil; coal, salt and gemstone mining in Pakistan; gold mining in China; gem mining in Sri Lanka.
Most countries in the world have signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which recognizes the right to protect children from economic exploitation. Human Rights Watch believes boycotting goods produced from these mines is not the solution, as it would adversely affect the economy of these nations. Instead, in accord with U.N. Guiding Principles, it proposes that international companies that buy these products initiate programs to ensure they do not benefit from child labor in any manner. Consumers from developed nations like the U.S. and the U.K., which provide the main markets for these products, should also become more aware of where the products come from. These 10 facts about child miners do not represent all the complexities that involve the lives of child miners. International nonprofit organizations are still working to create awareness and acquire more data on the use of children in the mining industry.
– Jayendrina Singha Ray