By Nokuthaba Dhamini
John Sigauke* wakes up every morning to join other illegal miners in a desperate search for gold.
“This work is too much, heavy and painful,” said the 16-year-old Sigauke, who said he was forced to venture into illegal gold mining after his father lost his job last year.
His father was working for a local company as a security guard, but it closed last year due to national lockdowns to slow down the spread of Covid-19.
Sigauke said the prolonged closure of schools due to the Covid-19 pandemic meant that he could spend more time searching for the elusive gold.
When schools briefly re-opened this year, he did not stop going to work.
“After we are dismissed from school, we come to work for gold, during weekends we are also involved in artisanal mining,” he said.
Another 14-year-old illegal miner from the same area added: “The Covid-19 pandemic opened up our eyes and I realised that it is not worth it to go to school.”
“As far as schooling is concerned, I am no longer concerned about it because the little money I get from illegal mining is enough to cater for all my needs in life, therefore, it’s better I forget about school.”
Green Governance Zimbabwe Trust (GCZT), an advocacy group lobbying for the protection of the environment, said the teenage boys’ stories resonated with those of many others from across the country, who have joined the swelling ranks of illegal miners during the Covid-19 era.
“The pandemic has caused economic insecurity, it is inevitable that it will cause a lasting socio-economic and financial impact,” GCZT said in its latest report.
“The grinding poverty that has characterised Zimbabwe since the economic meltdown that started at the turn of the millennium, has seen very few economic opportunities emerge for the country’s population and with the Covid-19 pandemic, the situation has become worse.
“This has in turn forced many children of school going age to drop out of school and find themselves engaged in informal economic activities such as artisanal and small-scale mining.”
Child labour is defined by the International Labour Organisation as the engagement of children in any form of work that affects their normal biological, social, and psychological development and interferes with their education.
GCZT said despite the existence of international instruments such as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Children, regional African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, and national instruments and interventions to curb or end child labour, the phenomenon continued to rear its ugly head as small children end up turning into illegal mining to survive the economic hardships that have been worsened by the Covid-19 outbreak.
“The rise in the use of child labour in artisanal and small-scale mining in Africa in general, and Zimbabwe in particular, presents a unique challenge to safeguarding children’s rights that have been universally accepted and held sacrosanct under international conventions,” GCZT added.
“In Zimbabwe, there has been a surge in the number of children working as artisanal and small-scale miners and the Covid-19 pandemic has made the situation worse.
“Women and children often find themselves working in mining due to extreme poverty and limited alternatives of livelihoods.”
GCZT recommended that the government must ensure that it protects children by providing basic social service delivery, investment opportunities and policy guidelines to ensure that children are not forced into mining by poverty.
*Not his real name