BREAKING NEWS- Ghana is starting to expel the illegal Chinese miners. Will keep you updated. Weds Mar 27
Why are children used to dig gold in Ghana? Because they have no choice. Of course, it this is the same old thing--child labor. Chinese mining companies are illegally in Ghana exploiting Ghana's mineral resources, ruining the environment, exploiting the laborers and more. Children are working at these mines. Let's stop this.
When a patch of land on the edge of Nweneso No. 1 village was bought by a Ghanaian who said he wanted to search for gold, few residents objected. Then dozens of Chinese moved in with excavators, wrecking farmland and turning the local stream into a trickle of mud.
As global gold prices climb amid economic uncertainty in Europe, Ghana is facing an influx of illegal small-scale miners from China using machinery villagers say they can’t afford. The operations are raising concern over environmental damage in Africa's second-biggest gold producer and sparking anger among Ghanaians who say they sold their farmland without knowing Chinese gold miners would move into camps nearby.
The Sahel region of Africa: Burkina Faso and Niger
Child labour in gold mining, or orpaillage as it is called locally, is widespread and increasing in Burkina Faso and Niger. As much as one quarter of all children in the world who work in mines are in a region of the Sahel common to these two countries. The reason for this is partly economic, partly social. The droughts of the 1970s and 1980s set off a downward spiral of poverty which, in turn, disrupted communities and families to such an extent that children previously protected by traditional customs and structures became a resource like any other that could be used to increase income.
Much of the small-scale gold mining in the Sahel is casual, seasonal and informal. Estimates have shown that children under 18 may constitute up to 30-50 per cent of the entire orpailleur workforce (estimated at between 200,000 and 500,000 across the two countries). Approximately 70 per cent of the children are under the age of 15, indicating that children start working from a young age.
The majority of children come from villages within the area, often within 10 km of the site, although a substantial number travel considerable distances within or even outside the country. Children who choose to migrate to the site with friends, peers, sponsors or even on their own usually end up having to fend for themselves. An unknown percentage of children at the mining sites have been trafficked as well. Non-local children are particularly vulnerable to abuse and deceit by adult orpailleurs and tend to work full-time in the pits and for longer hours than other children whose parents are present. Foreign girls in the orpaillage communities (usually Ghanaian or Togolese) may have come with a person who promised them work in a petty trade. Once at the mining site, however, many of these foreign girls are abandoned and turn to prostitution in order to survive.
Virtually all gold-mining communities in the Sahel are in remote, exceedingly poor rural areas. They are rough places without sanitation, health services and regular access to clean water. These unorganized and usually temporary settlements have virtually no public facilities. Schools, if they exist, are many kilometres away. Nevertheless, in Niger and Burkina Faso many families accompany their men to these sites. Thus, a number of children are born and grow up in mining settlements. Left to themselves while their parents work and without school or supervised sports, children easily become involved in mining or other forms of child exploitation. These problems are exacerbated during “gold rushes” when migrant miners converge around a freshly discovered site. Poor living and working conditions mean that all young children are exposed to infections and diseases caused by unclean water and lack of sanitation and complicated by malnutrition, Dysentery, diarrhoea, malaria, meningitis, measles, tuberculosis and other parasitic and viral infections are common. In Burkina Faso and Niger, children are engaged in almost all aspects of the mining operation, from rock breaking and transport to washing, crushing/pounding and mineraldressing. Children are particularly “useful” in underground gold deposits as their small size and agility allows them to more easily work in the narrow shafts and galleries.
Girls as well as boys undertake heavy work, although it is more likely that boys will work underground, while girls stay on the surface. Work for both involves the transport, crushing, washing and processing of rock. Typically, children under 10 years old tend to be given less arduous tasks, such as petty trading, pushing water carts and working as messengers. Regular, full-time work usually begins between the ages of 12 to 14 years. Children often work every day, although they occasionally get to rest for a day at the weekend. Working hours are extremely variable – from 8 to 14 hours – but almost always at least 6-8 hours per day (occasionally the children actually sleep underground). In many cases, children have insufficient time to rest and inadequate food and water. Again, those without parents are particularly at risk, having nowhere to secure a decent meal or safe place to rest before returning to work.
Although children are often expected to do the same work as adults, they invariably receive less pay. Most often, remuneration for children is a combination of in kind and cash payments. Others are not paid but work simply for food, shelter and security. For those that are paid, the cost of food, tools and medication may be deducted from their earnings such that they are left with virtually nothing. Those working with their parents are seen as simply providing an extra pair of hands to share the workload and are therefore not paid directly. Underground, the children are often forced to undertake exceedingly strenuous work under very hazardous conditions. Most of the tools and equipment they use are primitive and heavy, requiring considerable strength to wield effectively that constantly strains children’s bodies.
The “get-rich-quick” mentality that pervades mining sites undermines conventional norms of social conduct. Many young boys resort to alcohol (both commercial and locally brewed) or narcotics (especially amphetamines and marijuana) in the belief that it makes them stronger and more able to cope with the harshness of the underground environment and work. Even those that initially resist taking drugs often succumb to peer pressure. For young girls there are other threats, especially for those without the protection of their families. These include sexual assault, teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, especially HIV/AIDS. Such health risks are augmented by sexual promiscuity and misguided local beliefs that orpailleurs will have greater luck in the pits if they have int ercourse with a virgin or have unprotected intercourse and do not wash before going underground.
Small-scale mining in Ghana, referred to locally as “galamsey” (gather and sell), has been on the increase since the early 1980s. An estimated 10,000 children are involved in various parts of the country, m uch of it in gold mining.
Small-scale mine operators principally engage children between ages 10 and 18 years old who are paid minimal daily wages. These children perform all sorts of low-skilled tasks, including building trenches, carrying loads of gold ore on their heads to washing sites (done largely by girls), washing the ore (done largely by boys), amalgamating the gold using mercury, and selling the product.
Although there have been efforts to regularize small-scale mining in the country in the past 15 years to improve conditions, most sites are still unregistered and illegal. They tend to be set up on private land, sometimes encroaching on concessions of legitimate mining firms. Galamsey not only involves surface mining, but also underground mining in abandoned shafts, exposing those involved to additional deadly hazards – flooding, cave in and toxic fumes.
Originally the domain of unemployed youths looking to earn quick money, the practice has grown over the years and now attracts local people of all ages and migrants, principally adult men unaccompanied by spouses. The problem has been compounded in some areas by increased unemployment in farming caused by the loss of farmland to legitimate mining operations or to small-scale miners who essentially squat it. School dropout is a widespread problem in mining areas in Ghana. As most of the children involved come from poor homes, they initially start mining part time to help pay school fees with the consent or their parents. Many end up abandoning school altogether as the attraction of making money, even very little, is stronger than their perception of any long-term benefits of continued schooling. Given the relatively short life spans of most small-scale mining sites, these children will eventually find themselves unemployed and without skills for finding other jobs.
The expansion of small-scale mining and the increase in migrant labour to these areas has been associated with an increase in prostitution, often involving girls as young as 12 years old. This has inevitably led to increased teenage pregnancies, single parenting, and sexually transmitted diseases, particularly HIV/AIDS.
*Full Bibliography available