By Telesphor Magobe
CHILDREN from families living near mines find themselves in precarious situations that do not bode well for their rights and welfare. This was said recently by Ms Loyce Lema, the Executive Director of Environmental Human Rights Care and Gender Organisation (Envirocare) based in Makongo Juu, Dar es Salaam.
Ms Lema said child labour, including exploitive labour and harmful labour, was common in small-scale mines, while children ought to be well-groomed and cared for to be able to grow into maturity and be responsible adults and law-abiding citizens.
“Child labour includes domestic work like selling charcoal and mining activities to earn money for food, school fees and supporting the family. In small-scale mining, where there is inadequate occupational safety, as miners lack requisite mining technology, skills and protective gear, children are always at a distinct disadvantage,” explained Ms Lema as she called on the media to keep reporting on the plight of children working in mines.
Strategies to prevent child labour
As a response to prevent child labour in small-scale mines, Envirocare advocates a twofold-strategy. In relation to child labour prevention, the non-governmental and non profit organisations raises public awareness of the Law of the Child Act (R.E 2019) on the rights and duties of the child, appeals to the responsible authorities to put in place by-laws that protect children in hazardous small-scale mines and pushes for the reintroduction of children’s councils in primary and secondary schools and sensitises communities on children’s health risks in hazardous small-scale mines.
In relation to parental, it educates parents or guardians on the rights and duties of the child, appeals to law enforcers to hold accountable parents or guardians who violate the Law of the Child Act (R.E 2019) and urges parents or guardians and members of the public in general to protect the health of children.
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Envirocare utilised meetings with local government leaders and representatives of women miners’ groups, organised a national workshop and the media to sensitise communities on children’s rights and parental duty to raise children in an enabling and safe environment, including distributing leaflets written in Kiswahili, which highlight children’s rights and welfare in mines.
“By the end of our project in July 2020, we were able to see a difference from the time we started it in August 2019. We have played a positive role in mitigating child labour and this has to be maintained lest the situation retrogresses,” Ms Ediltruda Michael, Envirocare Project Officer said.
“What helps us most in our projects is to engage local communities in project areas. Through this we are sure of its sustainability. We came across child labour especially in Chunya District, Mbeya Region. In this area, women miners have formed a vibrant network that voices for children to keep child labour at bay,” she said.
According to Ms Michael, parents or guardians have started sending children to school, instead of engaging them in mining activities. Entitled ‘Advocacy of Women’s Rights and Environmental Justice in the Extractive Industries in Tanzania’, the project besides advocating women’s rights in mines, also focused on children’s rights and welfare.
Global child labour incidence
International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) in their joint report entitled Global estimates 2020, trends and the road forward, say globally, 7.1 million children are engaged in forms of domestic work that constitute child labour.
As a consequence, more than one third of all children in child labour do not go to school although they are within the category of compulsory education.
The report further says 160 million children (97 million boys and 63 million girls) were in child labour globally at the beginning of 2020, accounting for almost 1 in 10 of all children globally. At least 79 million children, almost half of all those in child labour, were in harmful labour that puts their health, safety and moral development at a high risk.
Who a child is
The Law of the Child Act (R.E 2019) provides that a person aged below 18 years is a child and it prohibits any person to employ or engage a child in any activity that may be harmful to his or her health, education, mental, physical or moral development. It also prohibits a child to be engaged in night work performed between 20:00 in the evening and 06:00 in the morning.
The law provides further that it is the duty of a parent, guardian or any person having custody of a child to maintain that child and the child has the right to food, shelter, clothing, medical care, including life, dignity, respect, immunisation, education and guidance, liberty and play and leisure.
However, a child aged 14 years has a right to light work, which does not harm his or her health, and does not prevent or affect his or her attendance at school, participation in vocational orientation or training programmes or the capacity of the child to benefit from school work. Furthermore, the Employment and Labour Relations Act (R.E 2019) prohibits a child aged below 18 years to be employed in a mine, factory or as crew on a ship or in any other worksite, including non-formal settings and agriculture, where work conditions may be considered hazardous.
Tanzania ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1991, ratified the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child in 2003 and in 2009 it enacted the Law of the Child Act (R.E 2019). Yet, even with the ratification of those conventions and the enactment of the Law of the Child Act, child labour is still practised in some parts of the country.
“Parties to regional and international conventions on children’s rights, including Tanzania, are duty bound to take necessary steps to ensure they comply with those instruments and enact national laws that include provisions that protect children. Where child labour is practised, it is especially girls who are at a high risk with regard to rape, child pregnancy, forced marriage and lack of education. Moreover, children’s failure to participate in issues that concern their development is common in villages surrounding mines,” said Ms Lema.
Tanzania is endowed with abundant mineral deposits such as gold, iron ore, nickel, copper, cobalt, silver and diamond. Others include Tanzanite, tin, ruby, garnet, limestone, soda ash, gypsum, salt, phosphate, coal, uranium, gravel, graphite, sand and dimension stones. It is the 4th largest gold producer in Africa after South Africa, Ghana and Mali and the sole Tanzanite producer in the world.
So, the booming mining sector, besides contributing to the national economy, can easily be a fertile breeding ground for child labour.
Envirocare envisages a society with a clean and safe environment that can benefit all citizens equally and in a sustainable manner and its mission is to promote and support environmental conservation and livelihoods with a gender, human rights based and participatory approach through advocacy, capacity building and action-based research.