As the Sierra Leone diamond industry gets back on its feet after a decade of bloody civil war, child and youth diggers are still on their knees, says a new report from the International Human Rights clinic at Harvard Law School.
The report, Digging in dirt: child miners in Sierra Leone’s diamond industry, describes the hardships experienced by child and youth diggers in more than two dozen diamond mining sites in Sierra Leone.
The report illustrates how the lack of basic educational opportunities for adults, and social services in rural areas is forcing many children to turn to open pit mining as a source of income for their families.
Conditions in these mines, the report says, are particularly harmful to children and youth.Young diggers work side-by-side with adults, shoveling sand, transporting bags of gravel weighing up to 60 kilograms and hunching for hours in search of diamonds.
Poor nutrition and the back-breaking nature of the work are especially detrimental to children’s development. Abysmal working conditions put them at risk of accidents, diseases, and even death. Further, a lack of bargaining power among all diggers especially children and youth leaves them unable to negotiate for fair pay and better working conditions.
“Beginning as early as 10 years of age, child miners perform back -breaking labour under poor conditions where they receive little compensation for their efforts” said Mathew Wells, one of the co-authors of the report and member of the international human rights clinic at Harvard Law School.
He said “child miners are overwhelmed by the work they are undertaking, labouring for six or seven days a week, being exposed to collapsing mine pits, and experiencing dire health impacts, including increased rates of malaria, worms, severe headaches and diseases.”
The report finds that despite laws in Sierra Leone that prohibit the use of child labour, the government has been largely ineffective in efforts to curb the use of children as diggers and miners in the diamond industry.
In addition, corruption within the mining system results in child labourers being given very meagre compensation, fostering deep poverty that threatens future social stability.
“This report urges the government to take immediate action to eliminate child mining in Sierra Leone by better addressing the needs of adults and children in mining communities,” said Aminata Ossom , co-author of the report and a member of the International Human Rights’ Clinic at Harvard Law School.
If changes are not made, the report argues, widespread feelings of alienation, frustration, and disenfranchisement among Sierra Leone’s young generation-the same factors that sparked the country’s decade-long war will continue to grow.
The report calls for both regulatory reforms within the government and the mining industry and renewed development programmes to focus on poverty, education and healthcare for Sierra Leonean children.
By Solomon Rogers