Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Digging for gold, children work in harsh conditions, paid with bags of dirt

Mali is Africa’s third largest gold producer. Artisanal mines rely on heavy human labor and little mechanization. People throughout West Africa are flocking to work in the primitive pits. Approximately 100,000 to 200,000 people in Mali are working in artisanal mines, according to the Human Rights Watch report which will be released Tuesday. Twenty to thirty percent of the workforce in African artisanal mines is child labor. The children working in the mines, some as young as six years old, help dig shafts with pickaxes, lift and carry heavy bags of ore and pan the gold with an amalgamation process involving mercury. These children experience harsh working conditions on a daily basis where they have terrible headaches, back pain, joint aches that can potentially lead to long-tern spinal injury for some of these children who are carrying very heavy loads.

A 15 year old named Samba Dairra, journeyed 200 miles to live in a plastic hut alone and work in an artisanal gold mine in Mali. The teen came to the mine to help support his five younger brothers and sisters. The main reason he left his home is to help his parents by sending them money. Diarra’s parents can’t afford to send him to school because he has to support his younger siblings. Diarra spent his first day pulling up gold ore that was mined by men working deep underground. At the end of his first day, he was paid with a bag of dirt while gold is currently trading at around $1747 an ounce. Some children working in the mines never get paid. Those who do, get just a few dollars a week.

It is extremely heartbreaking that these young children like Diarra are working for little or nothing so that they can contribute to their households. They are shouldering responsibility at an early age, which is taking away from their childhood because many of these children will continue to work in these mines for most of their lives because they have no other forms of work or means to get educated. I hope these children can receive justice and one way we can help is to stop purchasing diamonds to prevent the diamond industry from growing.

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