NYALIGONGO, Tanzania, April 4 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) -
T hree years ago, 14-year-old Julius left his family near the
lakeside city of Mwanza, Tanzania, to try his luck mining gold.
Today Julius is in no hurry to leave, despite having one of
the riskiest jobs on a chaotic mine site - handling mercury each
day with his bare hands.
"It's good work. I'm paid well," Julius, who only wanted to
use his first name, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, wearing
an orange t-shirt and skinny jeans coated red dirt.
Julius, now 17, said he has been working with mercury for
three years - but no one had ever told him it was dangerous.
There are more than four million child labourers in Tanzania
aged between 5 and 17, according to a government survey released
last year in conjunction with the International Labour
Organization. That's roughly a third of the country's children.
More than three million are doing hazardous jobs, including
at illegal mines like the one near Nyaligongo in northern
Tanzania where they are exposed to mercury, heavy dust, and work
long shifts without safety gear.
The Tanzanian government is aware of the problem but has
struggled to keep children out of small, unlicensed mines.
Its laws do not allow children under 14 to work, and
hazardous work is not permitted for children over 14. Tanzania
has signed all major international conventions on child labour
and introduced its own laws to prevent the worst child labour.
But not everyone knows of the child labour laws, including
families and local officials.
Government workers tasked with enforcing the laws lack the
staff and funds for inspections, let alone pursue prosecutions.
"In Tanzania we have a good law and strategy to eliminate
all kinds of child labour, but the problem here is who is going
to implement this at the local level?" said Gerald Ng'ong'a,
executive director of Rafiki Social Development Organization
(SDO), an NGO that works on child labour in northern Tanzania.
"Local officials don't have enough information about the law
and how to protect children."
LURE OF GOLD
The problem is especially hard to tackle in the informal
sector, said Emma Gordon, senior Africa analyst at global risk
consultancy Verisk Maplecroft, which ranks Tanzania as the 55th
most "at risk" country in its 2017 Child Labour Index, due to be
published on April 5.
"The government's focus is very much centered around large
industrial projects, particularly foreign-owned businesses that
would be able to pay fines if violations were discovered,"
Gordon wrote in an email to the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
In Lake Victoria's gold belt, where gold has been extracted
since the 1890s, licensed and unlicensed small mines operate
with major mining firms close by.
The scrappy "artisanal" mines provide a crucial source of
income to people outside Tanzania's cities, but like the mining
site at Nyaligongo, many operate without government licences.
The majority of children working in gold mines are employed
by individuals running these unlicensed mines, observers say.
They are among the worst exploited of the mines' workers,
typically earning the equivalent of about 1 euro ($1) a day.
"Pit owners employ children because they're cheap labour,"
Legal or not, the lure of the mines – and the harsh poverty
of the farming communities around them – keep children coming.
Brothers Petromos and Mayalamos, who are 12 and 16, left
their village outside Mwanza because they heard there was good
money to be made at this mine.
"The work is difficult," said Mayalamos. "But I can only
leave this place once I've earned enough."
Nyaligongo village relies on gold to survive.
On the village's main street, cramped shops sell vegetables,
SIM cards, and lunch to off-duty miners. Middlemen purchase gold
from miners to sell in the closest town, Kahama, where it is
sold on in bigger cities like Mwanza and Dar es Salaam.
More than 8,000 people live in Nyaligongo, says Faustine
Masasila, the village's secretary and a mine site owner, and
more are still arriving.
"There are people here who used to have very miserable
lives," Masasila said, walking through the buzzing market. "If
you work hard, you are guaranteed prosperity."
At the primary school down the road, teachers are less
impressed with mining's promise of a good future.
A poster on the school office wall is a testament to the
number of children who leave to work when they are old enough.
This year, in Class 1, there are 236 students aged six and seven
while in Class 7 there are only 40 students aged 13 and 14.
"I feel very frustrated when children leave and go to the
mines instead of going on to secondary school," said Mabula
Kafuku, the education officer for the ward. "They don't even
have enough knowledge to mine safely."
Children dropping out of school is a nationwide problem in
Tanzania and major impediment to the government's aspiration to
become a middle-income nation by 2025. A recent Human Rights
Watch report found in 2016, more than five million children aged
between 7 and 17 were out of school across the country.
For government workers tasked with inspecting mines for
health, safety and labour violations, enforcing the law at the
far-flung informal mines sprinkled around the Lake Victoria
region is an onerous task.
Masasila, the village secretary, cannot recall ever seeing
inspectors at the mining site near Nyaligongo.
"If you have children working in remote areas, you need a
budget to visit. We don't have such things," said Hadija Hersi,
a regional labour officer based in Mwanza.
"That's why you have NGOs stepping in to intervene."
Indeed, several non-governmental organizations, including
Terre des Hommes Netherlands, have been trying to get child
workers back in school and help families develop alternate
income sources to wean them off their wages.
Since 2014, Terre des Hommes Netherlands, working with
Rafiki SDO, has managed to help more than 725 children leave the
mines. In Geita, another nearby gold mining area, UK-based Plan
International has helped 12,000 children withdraw from
small-scale mining work and is trying to reach another 11,600.
But as long as people are struggling to find work outside
Tanzania's cities, there is only so much NGOs can do.
At the mine, Nyanjige Mwendesha looks on as her three
children, ages 10, 12, and 15, sit on the red dusty ground,
smashing up rocks with small metal hammers in the midday sun.
Mwendesha brought her family to work here after there wasn't
enough rain on her farm this year. The family needed the money.
"When it starts to rain, I'll go back to the farm," she
($1 = 0.9363 euros)
(Editing by Belinda Goldsmith; Please credit the Thomson
Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that
covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property
rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org)