Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Children Mine Alongside Parents At Kono

Danny Glenwright and Mohamed Massaquo back from Kono Isatu Kamara looks on as her three young children navigate muddy pathways at Zone 3/7 Congo Bridge Mine in Kono, carrying shovels and lugging heavy loads of gravel to be sifted for diamonds.

She has brought them to the mine, where she herself has worked for four years, to work along with her and hopefully raise enough so they can attend school in September.

"The father of these children is not around," she says, pointing to her kids. "This is where I get money for their school bills. The children are not pleased with it, but it is the only option to get money. We know it is bad to employ children in the mines, but there are many here." A recent report by the Network Movement for Justice and Development (NMJD) in Sierra Leone, interviewed 267 children who work in mining areas across the country and found that 55 per cent of the child miners live with at least one parent.

The report also found that 38 per cent live with a relative and seven per cent live on their own.

"Most of the kids that are in the mine are actually staying with their parents," said Patrick Tongu, Field Supervisor for NMJD in Kono, who said he was surprised by this finding. "It's an issue of poverty. The people are so poor after the war that they cannot actually afford to send their kids to school." Tongu said there are thousands of children working in mines across the country, many of whom don't go to school - a violation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which states that even in wartime, all children have the right to receive an education.

Although the country's three main political parties have now released their party manifestos, none has said how they will address the issue of children in the mines if elected on August 11.

"Child mining, to me, is one of the worst forms of child labour," said Tongu. "The conditions are hazardous and the work is heavy." He said children work long hours for little or no pay and are often taken from their families by relatives who say they will care for them and then put to work in the mines.

Abu Marrah knows all about this. He was taken from his family in Kabala by his uncle and promised a job in carpentry, but for the last year has spent most of his days mining at Zone 3/7. He digs in heavy clay, hauls gravel and is immersed in filthy water for much of his day.

He has never been to school and is unsure of his age, which is in the range of 10-12 years.

"The work is hard," he said. "I am part of those who wash the gravel. I only have one meal per day and I come early in the morning and I am here up until 2 o'clock." Marrah said he would like to go to school if the opportunity arose - his dream is to be a medical doctor. He often works for days without finding a diamond and those he has found have never earned him more than Le 1000.

"We have a lot of children coming to work in these mines," he said, scanning the mounds of silt and gravel around him, where other children work, in the hot sun, bent over pools of dirty water as they dig and sift through stones. "When working if you are sad, the work will not go on, so you have to be happy." Tongu thinks more needs to be done to ensure Sierra Leonean children like Marrah are released from a life of hard labour in the mines. The NMJD's report has recommended increasing opportunities for education, relocating children to non-mining areas and greater community law enforcement.

"Not much has been done in terms of looking for alternatives for children in the mines," he said, noting that the government needs to encourage NGO's, businesses and other stakeholders to do more research into the issue and come up with ways to solve the problem. "For those communities where there is mining, they really have to do something for the kids." In the meantime, Isatu Kamara and others like her will continue to bring their children to work in mines all over the region. "We have no choice, we have no money," she said.

allAfrica.com: Sierra Leone: Children Mine Alongside Parents At Kono (Page 1 of 1)