Mining and quarrying
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Mining and quarrying

Children go deep underground in tunnels only as wide as their bodies…
Children haul loads of coal that weigh more than they do…
Children sit for long hours in the sun, pounding boulders into road gravel…
Children use their hands to work gold out of rocks using toxic mercury…
Children squat the whole day in water, sifting through sand for a precious gem…

About one million children work in mines and the number is increasing.

Mining is a form of work that is dangerous to children in every way.

It is physically dangerous because of the heavy and awkward loads, the strenuous work, the unstable underground structures, heavy tools and equipment, the toxic and often explosive chemicals, and the exposure to extremes of heat and cold.

It is often can also be morally and psychologically risky given that mining often takes place in remote areas where law, schools, and social services are unknown, where family and community support may not exist, where "boom or bust" conditions foster alcohol abuse, drugs, and prostitution.

Why we must act

The image of youngsters, blackened by coal dust lugging laden carts up from tunnels deep underground, was one of the factors which stirred the ILO membership to adopt conventions against child labour in the early days of the organization at the start of the twentieth century. Astonishingly, almost a hundred years later, that very image can still be seen in small-scale mines of Asia, Africa, Latin America, and even parts of Europe. Although much reduced, the problem persists.

Why, after all the sensitization and almost universal legislation against it, do children still work in mines and quarries? In part, it is because child labour in mining is one of those forms of work which is particularly closely associated with economic and social disruption. Even if virtually disappearing for a time, it tends to reassert itself when civil wars break out and cut off normal commerce, when drought destroys livelihoods or whenever else times get tough. It usually occurs far from sight: up in the mountains or out in the border areas. And it relocates swiftly, responding to hints and whispers of a gold strike here or jobs there. Under such conditions, neither national nor customary law are able to exert more than feeble control.

Far from the public eye, children in small-scale mining are vulnerable to a panoply of social, psychological, and physical dangers not found in many other forms of work. Mining areas are notorious for violence, prostitution, drug-use (especially of alcohol), and crime, and they attract those unable or unwilling to sustain traditional lifestyles or occupations. Where temporary towns have shot up, there is seldom potable water. Schools are non-existent. Mining is a hazardous occupation and children who work in mines and quarries are at serious risk of injury and illness, some disabilities becoming apparent only years later. An unknown number each year lose their lives. The dangers are so obvious and extreme that there are no conditions – poverty included – under which child work in mining can be tolerated.

Child labour in mining has not received as much attention as some other forms of child labour, perhaps because the number of children involved is relatively small – estimated roughly at one million – many countries having only a few hundred scattered here and there. Compared with as many as one hundred million in agriculture, mining apparently seems hardly worthy of note. But its extreme danger demands that this form of child exploitation must –and can – be stopped now.

  1. Minors out of mining

    Partnership for global action in small scale mining

  2. In their own words...

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