GlobalHealthAfrica

Archive for the ‘Children’ Category

Elimination of Child Labor in Africa – An Ongoing Challenge

In Child Labor, Children on May 26, 2014 at 5:47 pm

In Part 1, GHA Contributor Neha Ahmed called attention to the multitude of health hazards child gold miners faced in Tanzania. In Part 2, Neha explores viable solutions that could possibly eliminate child labor in Africa.

Moving wood for the family, for the economy. Image by  IamNotUnique

Moving wood for the family, for the economy. Image by IamNotUnique

June 12 commemorates World Day Against Child Labor, which was first launched in 2002 by the International Labour Organization (ILO) to draw attention to the practice of child labor around the world. The eradication of all forms of child labor has been a major aim of the ILO since its inception in 1919. Yet, the 2014 UN report on the State of the World’s Children acknowledges that more than fifteen percent of the world’s children are currently engaged in child labor. This translates into one in every 6 children in the world today being involved in some form of work.

Although child labor is thoroughly global and affects every part of the world, Sub-Saharan Africa continues to be the region with the highest proportion of children engaged in child labor, with over 21% of the child population or 51 million children, still doing work that meets the definition of child labor. Although there has been a drop in the prevalence of child labor since the early 1990s, the world remains far from the goal of eliminating child labor.

The phenomenon of child labor in Africa is complex and is closely linked to poverty, inequality and global economic forces. The need to make ends meet forces children to seek work, often at the expense of their education as well as their health. The prevalence of child labor differs significantly between countries in Africa, as shown in the table below. There are also major differences in the conditions and pathways that are thought to lead to child labor as well as the kinds of work children are engaged in. In many parts of Sub-Saharan Africa, increases in poverty and the devastating effects of HIV/AIDS have led to more children being pushed into the workforce.

In Kenya, for instance, children are engaged in some of the worst forms of child labor, including working in mines, tea plantations, construction and as domestic servants. There are reports that children are used to traffic drugs and weapons. Children are also especially vulnerable to human trafficking and all forms of abuse. It is estimated that up to 18,000 children in Kenya are engaged in commercial sexual exploitation. In countries such as Somalia, which continue to experience conflict, children are often systematically conscripted for armed groups and militias. Child labor in Egypt, on the other hand, appears to be concentrated in the agricultural sector, where children may have to work long hours and be exposed to hazardous chemicals and pesticides.

The last few years have seen some progress towards eliminating child labor, particularly in its worst forms. However, the recent global economic crisis is thought to have had a detrimental effect on child labor. By increasing unemployment and pushing more families into poverty, the economic downturn forced children to turn to work in order to assist their households. Although the enforcement of labor laws and the creation of policy initiatives are an important aspect of addressing the problem of child labor, there is considerable skepticism that these factors alone will improve the lives of children. Given that complex global economic forces shape the lived reality of populations around the world, the elimination of child labor must be tied to more fundamental changes to global trade relations and the distribution of wealth.

Click here to access data on child labor in African countries.

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Tanzania’s Child Gold Miners Face a Multitude of Health Hazards

In Children, Healthcare on April 5, 2014 at 9:33 pm

Mining is among the most perilous forms of child labor. Global Health Africa contributor, Neha Ahmed, calls attention to the multitude of health hazards child gold miners face in Tanzania.
In August of 2013, a report by Human Rights Watch warned that thousands of children, some as young as eight years old, were working in Tanzania’s small scale gold mines. Tanzania is the fourth largest producer of gold in Africa and gold has recently overtaken tourism as the country’s biggest foreign exchange earner. Despite the present laws prohibiting child labor, the practice remains widespread and children working in small scale gold mines continue to lead precarious lives with ongoing exposure to a multitude of health hazards.

Mining is among the most perilous forms of child labor. The health threats faced by children working in gold mines are numerous including musculoskeletal injuries from carrying heavy loads, injuries due to a lack of safety equipment, working in mine shafts which can collapse suddenly, and exposure to toxic chemicals such as mercury. Among child gold miners, exposure to mercury can occur in a number of different ways and carries with it a range of health risks, both short and long-term. Initially, elemental mercury is used to extract gold from the ore in which it is embedded. The next step in the gold extraction process requires the burning of the mercury-gold amalgam in order to purify the gold, which is then washed off with water. These processes result in mercury contamination both as run-off that pollutes water sources and as toxic vapor that can be inhaled by miners and the local community, causing either immediate or chronic toxic exposures for the child miners as well as their families and communities.

Mercury poisoning is known to cause a number of immediate detrimental health effects including blistering, swelling and fatigue. Research on the effects of mercury exposure has also provided evidence of long-term health damage including lowered fertility, heart disease, respiratory disease, musculoskeletal problems and poisoning. Moreover, mercury poisoning is particularly harmful to developing fetuses and young children since it can permanently impair cognitive functions and result in developmental deficits such as IQ loss and delayed speech.

In 2009, the Tanzanian government launched both the National Action Plan for the Elimination of Child Labor as well as The National Strategic Plan for Mercury Management. Tanzania also played a positive role in pushing for the Minamata Convention on Mercury, an international treaty regulating the use of the substance. However, as the Human Rights Watch report acknowledges, enforcement of these action plans and treaties remain an issue. Inspections of mining sites are sporadic and inconsistent, with the relevant government ministries lacking the resources required to enforce laws.

In addition, there is a failure to critically assess and attend to the underlying socioeconomic vulnerabilities that pave the way for precarious artisanal mining and the involvement of child labor in the activity. Working with mining communities immediately to improve working conditions and encourage safer workplace practices is important, as is enforcing adherence to child labor laws. However, for sustained and broad based changes to occur, it remains critical to take action on extensive issues such as landlessness among rural communities, improving access to education particularly secondary education, providing greater opportunities for vocational training, and providing support programs and transition opportunities to vulnerable children. This video shows the dangers that child gold miners encounter in Tanzania’s gold mines.

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