The mining site is a dangerous environment for children. Hazardous work is the worst form of child labour. This form of child labour is considered to be harmful and leads to adverse effects on the child’s safety, health (physical or mental) and moral development. As dawn preludes daylight, Lucia (14) leaves her mother’s homestead and takes up an 8km walk to Mazowe River. Had it not been for the Covid-19 lockdown, she would be in Form One. This particular day, she is late. She normally leaves home at 5am sharp.
Lucia starts on fast pace, intermittently breaking into trots and runs, down a valley, up a ridge and down another valley and up interlocking hills then down the river valley, which finally catches up with other children and women by the river bed. By the time she reaches Mazowe River, her fingers are frost-bitten and cold, but she has to work. Within minutes, she is in a pool, the water level almost on her waistline, deftly winnowing with a special basket at an angle that separates gold from ore. That is a rare skill at her age.
On the river banks, like moles, a congress of gold panners dig and forage for gold and immediately take the ore into the pool for processing. The environment is deflowered. Hoes, mattocks, iron bars, and many other tools are used to violate the riverbanks and the floor. At that tender age, Lucia faces a packed adult workday load.
Lucia collects ore from the ground, helps carry it to the man-made processors where others, specifically women and children will wash and sieve it to extract valuable minerals. She was raised by a single mother who also depends on artisanal mining to bring food to the table. Since her income does not allow her to provide for the family’s basic needs, Lucia’s mother asked her daughter to join in mining.
Artisanal mining is certainly not what Lucia wants to do in the future.“I am being forced to do this by circumstances that are beyond my control. I desperately need the money to help my mother take care of my siblings. The work is dangerous and disturbs my studies. In the future I want to enrol for a nursing diploma and become a certified nurse,” says Lucia.
When asked if it was possible for her to leave mining and work to pursue her dreams she says, “Yes. If someone could intervene and provide me with inputs to do lighter projects like livestock farming and horticulture. It could give me enough time to focus on my studies.”
Lucia is one of the children depending on artisanal gold mining to support their families’ income.
During a media tour along Mazowe River in Uzumba-Maramba-Pfungwe that was coordinated by the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists (ZUJ) in conjunction with the Environmental Management Agency (EMA), it was found out that more than half of the child miners interviewed had dropped out of school because of their incapability to pay school fees.
Child mining is a form of child labour and this challenge will require long-term engagement and participation of a variety of stakeholders. According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), child labour refers to a subset of children’s work that is injurious, negative or undesirable to children and should be targeted for elimination. Children are pushed by their parents to work at artisanal mining sites to make some money to add their family income, which contributes to child labour.