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More children increasingly participating in gold mining activities

More children increasingly participating in gold mining activities

Small-scale shaft

The reduced economic activity brought about by the prolonged lockdown to slow down the spread of Covid-19 may be fuelling child labour in informal gold mines. 

Vongai Mbara

Last week I visited a number of mines in Mashonaland central province and I witnessed quite a number of underaged boys carrying out mining activities. 

In Mukaradzi, Mt Darwin, I met 16-year-old Norman Matutu (name changed) who is currently working at one of the gold claims in the area. 

Norman, a very petite boy dawned in a torn work suit, gumboots and a torch strapped around his head seemed very nervous as I approached him to have a conversation. 

“How old are you?”, I asked him. 

“21”, he responded with his eyes spanning around to see if anyone else was in on the conversation. 

It took a number of minutes to convince him to open up and be honest about his real age. At last, he confirmed that he was 16 years old working at a mine to earn a living. 

Norman said he was one of the scores of children working on the opencast mine with no formal contracts, protective clothing or any medical benefits. 

“I came here with a group of friends to look for work. The lockdown really affected our families such that we would go to bed on empty stomachs. When my friends and I heard that they were hiring people here, we walked over 50 km and camped here,” he said. 

Norman took me to where he sleeps and it is a black plastic bag rested over a shrub which he shares with three of his friends who are 15, 16 and 17 years old. 

Despite his age, Norman said he gets very happy when he gets an underground shift. 

“I go underground because that is where the money is. I try to not think about how dangerous it is because it will distract me. I once acquired US$15oo in a day.  It’s the money that motivates me so I get happy when I get an underground shift,” he said. 

For most families in the area, any labour that may be exploited in the collective effort to sustain their livelihood is mastered and taken on board. 

Child labour is well hidden from outsiders who visit the mine sites and many child rights cases of abuse go unreported. There is also a lack of will to address the abuses. 

“My parents were scared for me to work here but once I started sending them money, they accepted it. Now they support me,” Norman said. 

The rise in the use of child labour in artisanal and small-scale mining in the country presents a unique challenge to safeguarding children’s rights that have been universally accepted and held sacrosanct under international conventions. 

School children are increasingly participating in artisanal gold mining activities owing to inactivity and rising poverty levels worsened by a prolonged Covid-19 lockdown.  

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Last year, there was an incident where 14-year-old Wisk Peter Chimwayi, a Grade 7 pupil at Rukanda Primary School in Mutoko, suffered spinal cord damage during a mine shaft collapse in Mutoko. The boy is now paralysed and in need of financial help for advanced treatment  

Speaking in an interview, Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA) deputy director, Shamiso Mtisi said a number of Zimbabwe children were now risking young lives by taking part in the illicit practice.  

“An increasing number of children in Arda Transau along Odzi River, Penhalonga, Mudzi, Mazoe, among other areas are involved in gold mining.

“Some of these children are being forced to accompany their parents while others are in paid work,” he said. 

Mtisi said the current child rights programme being run by ZELA was overwhelmed and could not effectively reach out to all areas where the activities were taking place. 

“Preliminary information gathered indicates that there are a lot of child-headed households in need to generate income especially in the Arda Transau area.  

He said the involvement of children was exposing them to other immoral activities such as drug abuse and prostitution.  

Zimbabwe has ratified all key international conventions concerning child labour. These include the International Labour Organisation’s Conventions 138 on the minimum wage and 182 on the worst forms of Child Labour. The Children’s Act (Chapter 5:06) also exists to protect the rights of children from typical forms of abuse. 

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