Migori mines take a toll on schooling
What you need to know:
- An estimated 8,000 children are working in gold mines in Nyatike, Suna East, Kuria West and Suna West sub counties.
- Some children have been trapped in collapsed mines, suffocated or exposed to the deadly effects of mercury.
- Migori police boss Joseph Nthenge says security agencies have done their best to end the menace.
Gold mining in Migori County continues to pose a major threat to education as scores of children forego school to work in pits.
Despite spirited efforts by the government and non-governmental organisations to fight child labour, the irresistible allure of quick money coupled with high levels of poverty continue to drive more and more children into the dark, winding and scary tunnels.
The Sunday Nation visited several mines and found children helping their parents while others were working for miners.
At Kehancha gold mines in Kuria West Sub-County, a number of children sieve gold from the ground rocks while others ferry gold dust from tunnels.
Thirteen-year-old Bramwel Chacha (not his name), works at one of the mines.
“I am here to look for money and assist my parents to take care of our family. I cannot go to school because my parents are poor and they can hardly afford food,” the boy said.
Chacha dropped out of Kehancha Primary School in Standard Five.
As he scoured for the glistering flakes in the waterlogged pits, he said he does not regret abandoning school.
“Why should I go to school while hungry? I will continue working here until I become rich,” the boy added.
Not far from Bramwel are three girls, aged between 12 and 16, busy ferrying gold dust from rock crushers to the sieves where adults are washing the gold deposits from the dust.
The girls animatedly go about their duties, oblivious of the future.
COST OF LIVING
Ideally, the adults should be mindful of the children’s welfare and future but they urge them on.
“Stop talking to that stranger and work,” an agitated woman shouted when a girl attempted to speak to this writer.
One of the miners working with his children said the high cost of living has compelled young ones to join adults in looking for gold.
“It is unfortunate most of them have dropped out of school but this is inevitable sometimes,” he said.
The situation is not any different at Macalder and Masara gold mines in Nyatike and Suna West sub counties respectively.
Child labour is rife. Mine owners have been accused of employing children in order to save costs.
“The owners are the reason children are leaving school. They take advantage of the young people who do not demand much in payment,” Mr Japhet Otieno, a child rights activist in Nyatike, said.
At Macalder, the biggest mine in the area, entire households to work there. Those not engaged in mining directly sell food or run errands.
Most of the children who work in the mines earn as little as Sh200 a day yet a gramme of gold sells at between Sh3,000 and Sh3,800.
Besides the meagre wages and the excruciating work, some children have been trapped in collapsed mines, suffocated or exposed to the deadly effects of mercury.
According to Migori County children’s welfare office, an estimated 8,000 children are working in gold mines in Nyatike, Suna East, Kuria West and Suna West sub counties.
They work either in actual extraction or in ancillary services such as selling food.
County children’s officer John Odinya said more than 300 children drop out of school every year to work in the mines.
Like many others, he attributes the worrying trend to high levels of poverty in Migori.
“It is unfortunate that more and more children are running away from classrooms to the mines,” Mr Odinya said.
Health experts attribute the high rate of HIV/Aids spread in Migori County to activities in the mines.
They say girls and women trade sex for gold or money.
Besides the risk of HIV/Aids, mining areas have recorded many cases of early pregnancies and early marriages.
Miners have been accused of using proceeds from the gold trade to lure girls into sex.
Apart from dropping out of school, education stakeholders say many pupils in mining areas spend a lot of their holidays, weekends and other free time prospecting for the precious metal, denying them time to concentrate on their studies.
“Children go to the mines every evening after school and work till late in the night. This continues to affect academic and extracurricular performance,” Mr Onyango Jacob, a teacher in Nyatike, said.
County director of education Luca Chebet acknowledged the enormity of the problem and its effects on education.
“Mining contributes heavily to the high dropout rate and this has had a negative impact on the overall education standards,” Mr Chebet said at a recent function.
The 2001 Children’s Act 2001 bans employment of anyone below 18.
The Act says every child shall be protected from economic exploitation and any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with his or her education, or to be harmful to the child’s health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development.
The Act defines child labour as any situation where a child provides work in exchange for payment.
Activists have blamed the rise in child labour on poor enforcement of the law.
They accuse local administrators of laxity in dealing with residents who allow their children to work in mines and mine owners who employ them.
“Those who allow this to go on should be prosecuted. The problem has always been that local administrators and the police are not doing much,” Mr Gregory Roba, a Kuria-based activist said.
“If the law was to be enforced, the grim statistics of child labour would have been addressed long time ago.”
Migori police boss Joseph Nthenge says security agencies have done their best to end the menace.
He blames parents and residents for encouraging children to work in mines.
“While officers do their best, the biggest stumbling block has always been adamant parents,” he said.