Cold, dark and dangerous - Asian children in mining -"the most hazardous work"

Removing more than one million children who work in mines and quarries from one of the worst forms of child labour is the focus of events around the world marking the World Day Against Child Labour on 12 June.

Press release | BANGKOK | 09 June 2005

Bangkok (ILO news) – Removing more than one million children who work in mines and quarries from one of the worst forms of child labour will be the focus of events around the world marking the World Day Against Child Labour on 12 June.

“Children who work in mines and quarries are directly in harm’s way, risking their health and safety – and indeed their lives,” said Juan Somavia, Director-General of the ILO. “These children carry too heavy a burden.  It’s up to us to lift this weight from their shoulders.  We can get children out of mines and quarries and into schools.”

FromIndonesiato the Philippines,Cambodiato Mongolia, BangladeshandIndiato Nepaland Sri Lankaand in other countries ofAsiaand around the world, events are planned to raise awareness of the burden and ways to lift it.

Children as young as five years of age are working in mines and quarries, in conditions that beggar belief. Mercury poisoning, liver disease and respiratory ailments are just some of the hazards they face.

Nearly all children involved in small-scale mining and quarrying are in so-called artisanal work sites located in remote, hard-to-reach areas, making them difficult to regulate and hindering efforts to assist the children working there.

Cold, dark and dangerous these ‘unofficial’ and unregulated coal mines and gold mines are no places for children. Due to extreme poverty and lack of access to education, some feel they have little choice but to risk the dangers. In some mines, children work as far as 90 metres beneath the ground with only a rope with which to climb in and out, inadequate ventilation and only a flashlight or candle for light. In small-scale mining, child workers dig and haul heavy loads of rock, dive into rivers and flooded tunnels in search of minerals, set explosives for underground blasting and crawl through narrow tunnels only as wide as their bodies. 
In quarries, children dig sand, rock and dirt; transport it on their heads or backs; and spend hours pounding larger rocks into gravel using adult-sized tools to produce construction materials for roads and buildings.

The health risks range from spinal injuries and deformities from carrying loads that are too heavy to potentially fatal rock falls and chronic diseases. These are compounded by the environmental hazards, such as the soil, water and air that may be contaminated with toxic substances like mercury or other heavy metals. Clean drinking water, health services and schools are often unavailable, especially in the more remote areas. Even where schools and clinics are available, work obligations often prevent child labourers from enjoying their benefits. In addition, such work often puts children at risk for involvement in the drug and alcohol trade and in prostitution, which are also considered worst forms of child labour.

But the ILO is convinced the cycle can be broken.

“In this region, the ILO has undertaken major programmes to combat child labour in mining and quarrying because it is some of the most hazardous work that children do anywhere, said Mr. Shinichi Hasegawa, ILO Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific. “We believe that with a concerted effort child labour can be eliminated from this sector.”

In Geneva, Switzerland, where the International Labour Organization’s annual conference is in session, World Day Against Child Labour will be observed on Friday, 10 June, at a special event highlighting the commitment of concerned governments and representatives of workers and employers in the mining industry to join with the ILO in inaugurating a global initiative to eliminate child labour in small-scale mines and quarries.

Here inAsiaand the Pacific, the ILO’s tripartite constituents and social partners will come together in the Philippinesto sign a “Call to Action” to end child labour in mining and quarrying by 2015. In Indonesia, the ILO and its partners will organize a drawing competition on access to good quality education as the way of breaking the cycle of poverty which afflicts their mining communities. In Nepal, a range of activities are being organized all across the country with the participation of the local authorities, social partners and the children. Other activities, which in some instances may last for a month, will be organized in Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Mongolia, Pakistan and Sri Lanka .

The World Day Against Child Labour was established by the ILO in 2002 to raise the visibility of global and local efforts against child labour and highlight the global movement to eliminate the practice, particularly its worst forms. According to the ILO, there are nearly 250 million child labourers worldwide. Approximately one million of these children work in mining and quarrying.  This is considered a Worst Form of Child Labour under ILO Convention No. 182, which covers “work in hazardous environments, where children are exposed to toxic chemicals, dangerous machinery or extreme heat.”  Convention No. 182, adopted in 1999, and Convention No. 138 on the Minimum Age, adopted in 1973, are among the ILO’s most widely ratified conventions.  

The ILO has set specific standards concerning mining, most recently through the Safety and Health in Mines Convention, 1995 (No.176), and Recommendation, 1995 (No.183). In 1999 and 2002, ILO tripartite meetings on mining recommended active measures against child labour in small-scale mining. Since then, the ILO’s International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC) has undertaken a number of technical cooperation projects to demonstrate how child labour in mining and quarrying can be stopped.

The ILO believes the problem of child labour in small-scale mines can be solved. The number of children involved is large but not overwhelming, and work sites, while remote, are concentrated in particular areas. IPEC’s pilot projects inMongolia, thePhilippines,IndonesiaandNepalhave shown that the best way to assist children in this sector is to work with the children’s own communities, improving the viability, safety and environmental sustainability of the small-scale mining economy, and improving future prospects of the children through better access to good quality education, training and basic services.

For more information:

Allan Dow
Communications Officer
ILO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific
United Nations Building , Bangkok , Thailand
Tel: +66 2 288 2057

Country Specific Contacts:

Bangladesh: Mr. H. S. Sujeewa Fonseka, Tel: + 880 2 811 4705

Cambodia: Mr. M. P. Joseph, Tel: 855-23-994-209 ext 302

 India: Ms. Surina Rajan , Tel: + 91 11 2460 2101

Mongolia: Ms. Norjinlkham Mongolmaa , Tel: + 976-11-315-149

Indonesia : Mr. Patrick Quinn , Tel:+ 62 21 391 3112

Nepal:Mr. Pracha Vasuprasat , Tel: + 977 1 553 1752

Pakistan : Mr. Ahmet Ozirmak , Tel:+ 92 51 227 6456

Philippines : Ms. Serenidad F. Lavador , Tel: + 632 580 9928

Sri Lanka : Ms. Shyama Salgado , Tel:+ 94 11 2507 900 ext 23