5 things you need to know about children and mining

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An estimated 1 million children are working as miners worldwide
Boy collecting rocks. Photo/World Vision
(May 13, 2013)
MISSISSAUGA, ON - 5 Things You Need to Know About Children and Mining is a complementary resource for World Vision’s report about children working as artisanal miners in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Child Miners Speak. While the main report offers insight into the dirty, dangerous and degrading lives of children working at an artisanal copper and cobalt mine, the facts below paint a broad picture of this horrendous form of child labour.

1. Children are miners, too. An estimated 1 million children are working as miners worldwide. They work in Africa, Asia-Pacific, South and Central America and Europe, mining everything from gold to gravel. Most of the time they work as “artisanal miners”, which means they use their hands and tools to collect raw materials and extract minerals.

2. It’s dirty. Artisanal mining has immediate and long-term effects on a child’s health. In World Vision’s recent research conducted among workers at an informal mine site in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), 67 per cent of children experienced frequent or persistent coughing and girls who were working waist-deep in acidic water reported experiencing genital infections. Minerals mined are often hazardous not only to the child miner’s health, but also that of the wider community. Cobalt, for example, can damage the heart, thyroid and lungs. It’s especially risky for children because:
  • Children absorb and retain heavy metals in the brain more easily.
  • Children’s enzyme systems are still developing so are less able to detoxify hazardous substances.
  • Children breathe faster and more deeply, so can inhale more airborne pathogens and dusts.
  • Children dehydrate more easily due to their larger skin surface and because of their faster breathing.
  • Children’s endocrine system (which plays a key role in growth and development) can be disrupted by chemicals. (Source: ILO)

3. It’s dangerous. Artisanal mining leads as one of the most hazardous industries for child labour. Mine sites often have deep holes which children can fall into. Because children are small, they are often chosen to dig in tight tunnels and underground galleries where cave-ins can happen. Children can slip down steep slopes at mine sites while carrying heavy loads. They can drown in bodies of water around the mine sites. There’s also the back-breaking work -- World Vision’s DRC study found that 87 per cent of children interviewed experienced body pain and many had been injured. In the same study, 19 per cent of the children said they had seen a child die on an artisanal mining site.

4. It’s degrading. Children – boys and girls – as young as six years old are exploited on mine sites. They are usually paid less than adult workers, and have virtually no rights. They work long hours, with few breaks or time to play. Some work alongside their parents, but too many are alone, unprotected and abused.

5. It’s wrong. Almost all countries of the world have signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child. That convention recognizes the right of children to be protected from economic exploitation. It also says children must be protected from any work that interferes with their education or is harmful to their health or development. Governments have a duty to provide such protection to children and businesses have a responsibility to ensure their operations don’t harm them.