Double Dilemma: How COVID-19 is Entrenching Child Labour in Artisanal Small Scale Gold mining

“This work is too much, heavy and painful. After we dismiss from school, we come to work for gold, during weekends we are involved in artisanal mining,” an excerpt from a conversation with a sixteen year old artisanal gold miner. CHILD labour is a global problem that has resulted in the International Labour Organization setting aside the 12th of June every year as the World Day against Child Labor.

The term Covid-19, has become a national anthem in Zimbabwe. The pandemic has caused economic insecurity, it is inevitable that it will cause a lasting socio-economic and financial impact. The grinding poverty that has characterized Zimbabwe since the economic meltdown that started at the turn of the millennium, has seen very few economic opportunities emerge for the country’s population and with the Covid 19 pandemic the situation has become worse. This has in turn forced many children of school going age to drop out of school and find themselves engaged in informal economic activities such as Artisanal and Small Scale Mining.

Child labour is recognized by the International Labour Organization as the engagement of children in any form of work that affects their normal biological, social and psychological development and interferes with their education (ILO, 2016). In the African context, this rigid definition and articulation of child labour is often conflated with child work. Child work is recognized as the engagement of children in any economic activity or work that does not affect their psychological, social and mental development (UNICEF, 2014).

Despite, the existence of international instruments such as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Children (UNCRC), regional African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRCW) and national instruments and interventions to curb or end child labour, the phenomenon continues to rear its ugly head as Artisanal and Small Scale Mining provides a means to survival especially during this hard times with Covid-19 pandemic which has seen most people losing their jobs.

The rise in the use of child labour in Artisanal and small scale mining in Africa in general and Zimbabwe in particular presents a unique challenge to safeguarding children’s rights that have been universally accepted and held sacrosanct under international conventions. In Zimbabwe, there has been a surge in the number of children working as Artisanal and small scale miners The Covid-19 pandemic has made the situation to be worse. Women and children often find themselves working in mining due to extreme poverty and limited alternative of livelihoods.

It is without doubt that Artisanal and Small scale Mining provides an attractive source of income as it does not require intensive capital inputs but rather promises quick and somewhat steady returns. Income realized from ASM is notably higher than that obtained from other conventional informal forms of economic activities such as farming and vending. Protecting children involved in artisanal and small scale mining activities is challenging as most of the mining activities are informal and most of the mining sites are found in remote areas. The communities are also not open and receptive to outsiders.

Child labour in ASM is well hidden from outsiders who visit mine sites and many child rights abuses go unreported or there is lack of will to address the abuses. This reality is artisanal and small scale mining is now a source of income for a considerable number of the Zimbabwean population even those who are formally employed also want to engage in ASM. However for most families especially the poor, any labour that may be exploited in the collective effort to sustain their livelihood is mastered and taken on board. This dangerous concoction tion of circumstances, inevitably spawns the exploitation of child labour as a viable business model. However, child labour in artisanal and small scale mining still remains as a vestige of abuse whose effects and extent is largely unknown and unquantified.

The issue of child labour in artisanal and small scale mining has now started to attract significant attention worldwide as it is proving to be a significant source of livelihood for many. Economic stagnation and the Covid-19 pandemic has made child labour in ASM flown under the radar for this has sort of become a norm in order to realize the 12 billion dollar economy by 2030. Covid 19 is a driver to children engaging in Artisanal and Small Scale mining. During a monitoring visist by Green Governance Zimbabwe Trust in Nyanga under the Legal for Artisanal and Small Scale Miners project, one 16 year old boy said,

“This work is too much, heavy and painful. After we dismiss from school, we come to work for gold, during weekends we are involved in ASM activities either as individuals or as a family unit personally I do not have enough time to do school work because of being tired and also overwhelmed with domestic chores such as collecting firewood. “At least I am still at school, my peers have dropped out of school and are living the life. Two of my friends now own motor bikes and girls from our school are all over them because they have money, With the Covid-19 Pandemic the situation has also been so good to us for I am now just concentrating on mining only, hoping one day I will also have more money to show off ”.

The above response clearly shows that children are involved in child labour which in itself is abuse. This is because the work done by these children end up interfering with the children’s health and education. The Covid-19 pandemic has led to many children dropping out of school and engaging into Artisanal Small Scale Mining as it pays off better than going to school.

One 14 year old boy made this statement (translated vernacular) , “the Covid-19 pandemic opened up our eyes and I realized that it is not worth it to go to school, As far as schooling is concerned, I am no longer concerned about it because few money I get from Artisanal Small Scale Mining is enough to cater for all my needs in life than what school therefore it’s better I forget about school.”

Covid 19 is a driver for children engaging in Artisanal and Small Scale Mining. Countries should accelerate ratification of international and regional conventions, enact laws and come with interventions to curb child labour but if the interventions fail to wholly address bread and butter issues, child labour in Artisanal Small Scale Miners is here to stay. More importantly government must ensure that it protect children by providing basic social service delivery, investment opportunities and policy guidelines to ensure that children are not forced into mining by poverty.

Source: Green Governance Zimbabwe Trust

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