A significant proportion of the 168 million children who, according to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), work globally, are found in the extractive industries, primarily in informal mines. The use of toxic chemicals such as mercury, (used to separate gold), is common in informal mines. Children are especially vulnerable to such chemicals, which can inhibit their development. Mercury attacks the central nervous system and can cause brain damage and death. Under international principles, work performed by children below 18 years in mines falls into the category of the worst forms of child labour. Child labour in logging is widespread in certain parts of Asia and occurs to a certain extent in oil extraction.
Thousands of children work in Congo Kinshasa’s diamond
According to a report by Swedwatch, thousands of children are likely to be working in small-scale mining of diamonds in Congo Kinshasa. In the diamond-rich region children, mainly boys, frequently start to work in open surface mines from around the age of 10 to pay for schooling and food. At 14 they are given more demanding tasks. The work makes many children too tired for school, and instead they begin to work with diamond extraction full-time from a young age.
“It’s a bad job. It’s very demanding, but I have no choice. I’d rather work as a mechanic or anything else apart from in the mine when I’m older, but to get a job I need to study,” says a 19-year-old small-scale diamond miner who started working in a mine at the age of 14 to Swedwatch.
“If I find a large diamond, I’ll use the money to study in town. Then I’ll have a shot at getting a job. Any job is better than the mine,” says a 17-year-old mine worker.
Girls typically sell food and water and to miners. In mining environments girls are especially exposed to risk, and sexual exploitation of girls is common. Forced marriages from the age of 12 are common for many girls in the diamond region.
Children frequently work in small-scale mining of diamonds in Congo Kinshasa. Photo: Swedwatch
Proportion of children in the most severe forms of child labour, including mining, accounts for almost half of all child labour.