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ILO Urges Ban on Child Labor in Small-Scale Mines, Quarries

  • Lisa Schlein

The International Labor Organization is calling for the elimination of child labor in small-scale mining and quarrying within five to 10 years. The ILO reports at least one million children work in, what it describes as one of the world's most dangerous industries.

The International Labor Organization says children who work in small-scale mines and quarries are in such danger that action must be taken now to eliminate this worst form of child labor.

The ILO says many of these mines have inadequate ventilation, are excessively dusty and hot. It says children often work as far as 90 meters beneath the ground, with only a rope with which to climb in and out. They often have to dig and haul heavy loads of rock, dive into rivers and flooded tunnels in search of minerals and set explosives for underground blasting.

Suzan Gunn is senior technical adviser for the ILO's International Program for the Elimination of Child Labor. She says children as young as three work under these hazardous conditions, usually for little or no pay. She says they risk their health and safety, and even their lives.

"You have heard about the snake boys mainly found in East Africa," she said. Y"ou can imagine what it feels like for a child to have to be in a space no larger than the width of their body. This is the kind of thing, which makes mining and quarrying such a risky and impossible job for children to do."

The ILO notes the health risks range from spinal injuries and deformities to potentially fatal rock falls and chronic diseases. These are made worse by the environmental hazards. It says the soil, water and air often are contaminated with toxic substances, such as mercury.

The organization says this form of child labor takes place in Asia, Africa and Latin America, but is probably most prevalent in Africa.

The ILO says it believes it is possible to eliminate this form of child labor, and is currently running pilot projects in a number of countries. ILO Program Officer Larence Dubois says some projects in Niger and Madagascar, for example, are showing good results.

She says the strategy involves information campaigns to make the communities aware of the risks their children run. She says the children are withdrawn from the mines and quarries, and are rehabilitated.

"Children - we give them some educational support," she explained. "It could be school; it could be formal school; it could be informal schools, and it could be, as well, vocational training for the older children, who are too old to go back to school. Poverty is an issue of child labor. So, we try to support the families, giving them some income-generating activities to provide them with supports, if they withdraw their children from work."

The ILO is launching a new initiative aimed at eliminating child labor in small-scale mines and quarries around the world. So far, it says, 15 countries have signed an accord committing themselves to pursuing this action within the next five to 10 years. Participating countries include Brazil, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Pakistan and Togo.