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Facts About Child Miners
An estimated 1 million children worldwide work as miners. These are 10 facts about child miners in the world today.

Key Child Miners Facts

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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
Photo: Flickr

Child Soldiers in Sierra Leone
From 1991 to 2002, Sierra Leone was embroiled in a devastating civil war, fought primarily between the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and Sierra Leone Army (SLA). This civil war garnered international attention for its blatant use of child soldiers and for the skyrocketing of child soldiers in Sierra Leone.

Child soldiers are children (defined under international law as individuals under the age of 18) who are used for any military purpose. In the Sierra Leonean civil war, children made up between 40 and 50 percent of the RUF’s military force and approximately 20 percent of the government’s military force. In total, approximately 10,000 children were exploited and forced to be child soldiers in Sierra Leone. Discussed below are the leading facts about child soldiers in Sierra Leone.

 

Top 10 Facts About Child Soldiers in Sierra Leone

 

  1. The term child soldier does not only include those who carry a gun and fight. Children also served as messengers and porters, and young girls were conscripted into sexual slavery or forcibly married to generals.
  2. Children are chosen to be soldiers because they are easily manipulated. They are more loyal and obedient than adults and they are far less likely to revolt. They also do not require wages, making them a cheap alternative to traditional soldiers.
  3. Children are more likely to become child soldiers if they are poor, living in a combat zone, displaced from their homes, separated from their families or have limited access to education.
  4. The process of reintegrating child soldiers is called Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR). Compounds were created to reintegrate child soldiers in Sierra Leone by providing them with education, food, shelter and psychiatric services.
  5. DDR is not necessarily 100 percent effective. Children may relapse into violence in adolescence and adulthood. Ishmael Beah, a former child soldier in Sierra Leone, said: “One of my greatest fears in Sierra Leone now is, if you have a large number of disgruntled and idle young people who have nothing to do with themselves, you have the possibility of sparking anything.”
  6. DDR camps were also not completely safe. Rebel soldiers would hang around the camps and convince previously demobilized child soldiers to rejoin the army by promising to reunite them with their families or simply threatening to kill everyone else in the camp if they did not comply.
  7. Children were often forced to use drugs (typically marijuana or crack cocaine) to enable them to commit violence. As a result, they had a reputation among civilians for extreme cruelty. Many boys belonged to the infamous Small Boys Unit.
  8. This reputation for violence was one of the key barriers to reintegration. Child soldiers had lost their childhoods and been traumatized, but many could not return home because they were seen as murderers.
  9. In 2013, Lt. Gen. Romeo Dallaire founded a nonprofit called the Child Soldier Initiative (CSI). It designed a mandatory training manual and seminar for police and local armed forces to inform them of children’s rights and how to handle child soldiers in the field. This training has also been used in Sudan, Mali and Cote d’Ivoire, though it is not mandatory there.
  10. The second phase of CSI’s project is to have former child soldiers run the program and train other children on their rights and the alternatives to joining the conflict.

Recent innovations in international human rights law, such as the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict (which has been ratified by more than 110 countries) are a reason to have hope for the future of children in conflict, as are nonprofits like the Child Soldier Initiative.

According to Theresa Betancourt, an expert in the field of child psychology in conflict and child soldiers, “We need to devise lasting systems of care, instead of leaving behind a dust cloud that disappears when the humanitarian actors leave.”

Olivia Bradley

Photo: Flickr