To mark World Day against Child Labour on Sunday, the United Nations labour agency is spotlighting the problems of over a million children around the world who help to support their families by working as miners, often for small unregulated enterprises in dangerous conditions.
“Because the money they earn is crucial to ensuring that they and their families survive, many are unable to attend school at all. These children are digging for survival,” the UN International Labour Organization (ILO) says.
“Underground, they endure stifling heat and darkness, set explosives for underground blasts, and crawl or swim through dangerous, unstable tunnels. Above ground, they dive into rivers in search of minerals, or may dig sand, rock and dirt and spend hours pounding rocks into gravel using heavy, oversized tools made for adults,” it adds.
ILO says its International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC) is working to ensure that no child has to toil in a quarry or mine.
“Pilot projects undertaken by ILO/IPEC in Mongolia, Tanzania, Niger and the Andean countries of South America have shown that the best way to assist child miners is to work with the children’s own communities,” ILO adds.
ILO says it has helped mining and quarrying communities to organize cooperatives and improve productivity by acquiring the machinery that reduces or eliminates the need for children to risk their lives. Such communities have also obtained legal protections and developed health clinics, schools and sanitation systems.
Over a four-year period, the remote gold mining community of Santa Filomena, Peru, went from employing to 200,000 child miners to declaring itself “child labour-free,” it says, adding that ILO helped the community develop new income-generating projects for adults.
Meanwhile, however, more children are entering the mining and quarrying sector all over the world every day. While community projects can help child miners in direct and practical ways, only worldwide awareness of the problem can mobilize the international effort needed to end the practice for good, it says.
In the Philippines, nearly 18,000 children between 5 and 17 years old work in mines and quarries. In Nepal, about 32,000 children work in stone quarries, it says.
“In Niger alone, a staggering 250,000 children are employed in both small-scale mines and quarries, accounting for roughly half the total number of persons doing such work in the entire country,” ILO says.
From United Nations