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LABOUR-NIGER: Gold Miners Exploit Children

Ousseini Issa

NIAMEY, Aug 26 2005 (IPS) - Abdou Adamou spends his days in a pit 50 to 80 metres below ground at the Komabangou gold prospecting site. His job involves hacking up rocks and raising them to the surface with a bucket.

He is only 15 years old.

Komabangou, where Adamou works, is located some 175 kilometres southwest of the capital Niamey.

This mineral-rich region has sparked gold rush since 2001. A second gold-mining site at M’Banga, also located in southwest Niger, is some 95 kilometres from Niamey. The extraction of gold at M’Banga has, however, begun only recently.

“Each morning, they lower me into the shaft at 8 a.m. with the food and water I’ll need for the next 18 hours. In the beginning it was awful but once you get used to it, it becomes routine,” Adamou told IPS.

Like many other children, Adamou dropped out of school. “I left school when my parents decided to leave our village for Komabangou to look for gold. And since they had no one to leave me with, they brought me with them,” he said.

“If I could’ve found someone to take care of my child, I never would have brought him here. I would have let him to continue with his study,” Adamou’s father told IPS. “It’s hard for everyone in the village. People don’t want to take care of other people’s children when there’s nothing in it for them.”

Harouna Sadou, a Niamey sociologist, said: “Rural elementary school pupils are confronted with guardianship problem, especially when the school doesn’t have a feeding programme. Even in secondary schools, when the child does not receive a government allowance, it’s hard to find a family that will provide for him. And that frequently explains why children end up leaving school.”

More than 100 children between the ages of 10 and 16 are believed to be working in Komabangou.

According to Niger’s 1993 mining code, the minimum age at which one may work in mines and quarries is 18. But no inspectors have been assigned to the gold mining sites. Only occasionally does a team arrive for a surprise inspection, according to Ibrahim Balla Souley, the national coordinator for the International Programme for the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC-Niger), based in Niamey.

“To work at the site, one doesn’t need papers to document your age for the mine owners. And the government does nothing at the point of recruitment. Here, it’s basically the informal sector which operates,” Daouda Kabani, the general secretary of the Gold Prospectors Association of Komabangou told IPS.

According to him, no gold miner or parent has ever been prosecuted for a child labour offence.

IPEC, which set up shop in Niger in 2002, is run by the International Labour Organisation (ILO). The group seeks to abolish child labour worldwide.

“IPEC-Niger is a programme that was negotiated by Niger government with the ILO to fight child labour,” Souley explained.

More than 15,000 people of various nationalities from West Africa live at the Komabangou prospecting site. The concession was abandoned by a foreign firm in 2001 for lack of profit.

”Right next to the Nigeriens, the people from Benin, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Mali and Togolese work together. They’ve come to prospect for gold or to engage in trade,” Kabani explained.

”That’s the reality. Children constitute a workforce here. They work in various capacities. Some help with the rock-crushing; others work in extraction; others in transporting the water used to mix the crushed sand obtained after pulverising the rock,” Kabani explained. A gram of gold fetches between 10 and 12 dollars for the miner, he said.

According to Kabani, some gold prospectors pay about 20 dollars a month to the children they employ, others 30 dollars. But they provide the children – who came to work at the site without their parents or guardians – with free room and board.

Adults doing similar jobs earn double, Kabani said, because they produce more.

The minimum monthly wage of a government worker in Niger is about 50 dollars.

Mahamadou Aboubacar, 13, supplies water at the gold prospecting site, where he has lived with his mother for three years. ”I began working after my father died to help my mother out. I fill about three 200-litre barrels of water every day, which I deliver to my employer on a cart one kilometre away,” he told IPS. He earns about six dollars a day.

”I have no means of support here except my child since the death of my husband. He’s the one who works and feeds and clothes me,” Mamata Gado, Aboubacar’s mother, told IPS.

”But parents also push their children to come and work here,” Souley acknowledged.

”The children are exposed to all sorts of risks like dust poisoning and possibility of tunnel collapsing,” Souley stated. There are also diseases connected to physical activity, like lumbago and injuries from hammers and pestles that the children grind rock with.

Lumbago is lower back pain or general pain in the lower back especially in younger people whose work involves physical effort.

Dr. Bako Bagassi from the National Programme Against Sexually Transmitted Diseases and HIV/AIDS in Niamey said the children are often exposed to and infected by various diseases.

”Many of these children begin sexual activity early. In Komabangou, more than 50 percent of sex workers are infected with HIV,” Bagassi said, referring to a 2003 survey conducted by a health group.

To ease the pandemic, the Niger branch of World Vision, an international non-governmental organisation (NGO), has been conducting awareness campaigns and training since 2004.

”We’ve trained about 100 community workers to conduct awareness campaigns in Komabangou and surrounding villages. We’ve also created an HIV/AIDS testing centre,” Abdoulaye Soumana, a World Vision worker, told IPS.

IPEC-Niger also established a primary school in Komabangou in 2002. It also trains children in revenue-generating activities such as selling water, using carts as a mode of transport.

”We built the first primary school on this gold-mining site and today it has about 140 children,” said Souley, who is happy that some parents have chosen to enrol their children and keep them in school.

”Niger has ratified various international conventions relating to the protection and promotion of children, including the Convention on the Rights of Children,” said Zakari Hamadou, from the Ministry of Public Service and Labour in Niamey. In addition, Niger’s Labour law bans child labour.

”These children operate in informal environment which complicates the task of labour inspectors. That’s why I think we have to concentrate more on awareness campaigns,” Souley recommended, pointing to poverty as the main cause of child labour.

Sixty-three percent of Niger’s population lives below the poverty line, according to the 2004 World Report on Human Development of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

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