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Burkina Faso's Teen Miners Brave Danger to Strike Gold

Burkina Faso Teen Miners Brave Danger to Strike Gold
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Burkina Faso Teen Miners Brave Danger to Strike Gold

In Burkina Faso, many children who left school following threats by Islamic militants are working in the country’s informal gold mines, where they risk being harmed by accidents.

Here in Bouda, a dusty, noisy gold mine in northern Burkina Faso, miners eke out a meager living working in dangerous conditions and living in makeshift shelters.

Burkina Faso is Africa’s fifth largest gold producer, but between 700 and 1,000 of its mines are informal.

Children are among those working at these sites. Among them is Aziz Zabré, who left school two years ago to become a miner.

Covered in dust, he complains he can’t make money by going to school, so he pursued some of his friends to work in the mine. When he finds gold, he can make around $90 a month. He gives some to his parents and keeps the rest for himself.

In shafts as deep as 10 meters, which he climbs down without ropes, he chips away with a pickax.

An estimated 20,000 children work in Burkina Faso’s gold mines. The owner of this mine says children will turn to crime if they have no other opportunities, but he admits the situation is not ideal.

He says it's good for children to be at school and has some who attend school himself.

Rouky Ganamé fled her hometown in northern Burkina Faso when Islamist militants arrived. Now at 13, she is a miner.

She was at school when men came with their faces covered. She left class quickly and was able to escape with her family. She left Soman to go to Ouagadougou and from there to Bouda, where she works at the mine.

But the mines are not safe from terrorists, either. Militants attack them and demand a cut of the revenue to fund their fight against the Burkina Faso government.

Meanwhile, efforts are under way to help children forced to leave school by the conflict. U.N. representatives say they are taking a multifaceted approach to return all the country’s children to school.

Karim Sankara is a UNICEF program officer who says the organization supports the formation of policies, training and actors in the municipalities to carry out a plan that is sensitive to children's rights.

The plight of these children has attracted funding — a pledge of $59 million recently from an international NGO.

On a recent visit to Burkina Faso, Yasmine Sherif, director of Education Cannot Wait, said.

“I look forward to working with all of you to tell the world about the situation, the challenges, the suffering, and steer the moral conscience of the rest of the world.”

The money will help, says Burkina Faso Education Minister Stanislas Ouaro.

It will allow the rehabilitation of schools, the rebuilding of schools, scholarship fees, schooling for girls and help bring children out of the mines.

As for Rouky Ganamé, she sees little hope of returning to school soon.

She says she wants to return but can’t afford to ride the bus. It's too far for her to walk on foot.