Reflections on the HRW Report: ‘Tanzania: Hazardous Life of Child Miners’

August 28, 2013 9:42 am0 comments by:

Today the Human Rights Watch is launched a report titled ‘Tanzania: Hazardous Life of Child Miners’ report. In summary, the report boldly underlines the following issues: the sad reality of systematic child labour in mining industry especially in the small scale/artisanal mining; and children exposure to the mercury and other unimaginably worst working conditions that violate everything that has to do with ‘health and safety’. In respect to those, the report analyses both local and international legal instruments that could solve these issues, if enforced. This analysis highlights the weaknesses of legal acts in wealth generation activities that are driven by profit without due considerations to human rights and in this case child rights.

The report is driven from a research done in several gold mining regions in Tanzania including Chunya Mbeya, Geita and Kahama. It involved interviews and guided conversations with children who work in the mining, sex workers (who are also children), parents, teachers, and other relevant stakeholders.  Furthermore, the report includes analysis of Tanzania’s legal framework in different areas such as mining, welfare, environment, and education that can be of help to protect children from hazardous lifestyle. In addition, the report examines the responsibility of different stakeholders at various levels. These include the international community and organizations, the government, the companies, the owners, and the businessmen brokers in the mining industry. In the same vein, the report ends by giving recommendations for each of them.

In general, the report colours a heartrending picture of what is happening in the mining industry. A significant number of Tanzanian children are suffering. The depressing part is that there has been little attention to the issue of child labour in mining discourses and debates in Tanzania. Discourse on mining in Tanzania both in public and in the parliament has revolved around bad/unfair contracts and on low royalties with little attention to human rights as well as the suffering children. Government has passed laws and acts that are meant to protect children but, as the report shows, the enforcement is weak. Inspections to the mining areas by relevant law enforcers are rare. There are no systematic follow-ups to see if the licensed miners adhere to the regulations.

The fact that the report focuses on artisanal miners is a good thing on its own. As much as we focus on trying to advocate towards fairer mining contracts with external investors, we need to also put enormous attention into ensuring that local investors and small-scale miners also adhere to human rights and other environmental protection. The constant use of mercury in separating gold from ore is dangerous to not only to miners but also the community around.

Above all, the findings of the report reflect shameful poverty status in Tanzania. Amidst the enormous wealth generation through gold mining is exploitation of innocent children. Children around mining areas are haunted by poverty and they get tempted to work in such dangerous conditions just to meet basic needs. The stories and video clips in the report are evident to that.  Is this a curse? Is the gold in the area bringing suffering or wealth? Well, poverty persists, children suffer, children risking their future (health wise), children drop out from school, and so on and so on… the question remains, if there was no gold, what would the situation be like? Well, you can debate that as long as you can, but here is one thing to think about: ‘gold is natural but poverty is not…’

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