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Tanzania urged to stop
child labor in mines

DAR ES SALAAM (Xinhua) -- Tanzania was urged by Human Rights Watch on Wednesday to curb child labor in small-scale mines to avoid grave risks to their health and their lives.

Human Rights Watch said in a report released in Dar es Salaam that children as young as eight are working in Tanzania’s small- scale gold mines.

The 96-page report, titled Toxic Toll: Child labor and Mercury Exposure in Tanzania’s Small-Scale Gold Mines, describes how thousands of children work in licensed and unlicensed small-scale gold mines in Tanzania, Africa’s fourth largest gold producer.

The report said the children dig and drill in deep, unstable pits, work underground for shifts of up to 24 hours, and transport and crush heavy bags of gold ore.

It said children risk injury from pit collapses and accidents with tools, as well as long-term health damage from exposure to mercury, breathing dust and carrying heavy loads.

“I thought I was dead, I was so frightened,” the report quoted a 17-year-old boy as saying after he survived a pit accident.

The mining work also harms children’s schooling and places girls at risk of sexual exploitation, said the report which is based on interviews with over 200 people, including 80 children between the ages of eight and 17 working in artisanal gold mining areas in various parts of Tanzania.

“Tanzanian boys and girls are lured to the gold mines in the hopes of a better life, but find themselves stuck in a dead-end cycle of danger and despair,” said Janine Morna, children’s rights research fellow at Human Rights Watch.

“Tanzania and donors need to get these children out of the mines and into school or vocational training,” she said.

Human Rights Watch visited 11 mining sites in Geita, Shinyanga and Mbeya regions and interviewed more than 200 people, including 61 children working in small-scale gold mining

The report said the employment of children in dangerous mining work was one of the worst forms of child labor under international agreements to which Tanzania is a party.

“On paper, Tanzania has strong laws protecting child labor in mining, but the government has done far too little to enforce them, “ said Morna, “labour inspectors need to visit both licensed and unlicensed mines regularly, and ensure employers face sanctions for using child labour.”

The report said child laborers, as well as children living near mining sites, are at risk of mercury poisoning that attacks the central nervous system and can cause lifelong disability.

The miners, including children, mix mercury with crushed ore and burn the resulting gold-mercury amalgam to release the gold, exposing them to poisonous mercury fumes.
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