Daily Video

July 11, 2013

Children in Burkina Faso Risk Life and Limb in Gold Mines

Watch Children in Burkina Faso Get Dirty Work of Digging Up Gold on PBS. See more from PBS NewsHour.

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A gold rush has opened up jobs for the desperately poor in the West African nation of Burkina Faso, but these lucrative opportunities have created a major risk for many children who work in the mines.

Child gold miners work nearly 150 feet below ground in mine shafts that are sometimes only 28 inches wide. They are hired to work in the small and cramped spaces that an adult could not.

However, because of shoddy construction the mine walls are often held up with tree branches and can collapse on working children.

The U.N.’s international labor organization estimates that 30 to 50 percent of the miners in the region are child laborers, even though it is illegal to hire children under the age of 16 in Burkina Faso. However, the law is hard to enforce with an estimated 200,000 mining sites in the region.

But small spaces and collapsing mines aren’t the only concerns child laborers face; those working in the processing areas have equally dangerous tasks. Diesel engines power pulleys, grinding plates and belts to grind the rock into a fine powder. Children face the risk of breathing in the powder or losing fingers and limbs to the machinery.

However, mining wasn’t always a popular profession for child workers. In 1985, the country suffered a prolonged drought that forced many workers to leave their small family farms and work down in the mines. One ounce of gold was worth $300. Today it is worth over $1,200.

The poor economy in the country has forced many parents to pull their children out of school to work in the mines. The average worker makes $2 a day, but a family working in a mine can make $5 to $40 dollars a day.


Quote

“It’s a gamble. People are trading off the money that they can make now selling gold with potentially their health and their lives.” – Joe Amon, Human Rights Watch.

Warm-up questions:

1. What are some of the dangers of mining?

2. What is the minimum wage in your state? Why do you think there is a minimum wage?

3. What do you know about laws preventing children from working?

Discussion questions

1. What did you find most interesting about this video? Why?

2. Does this change the way you think about gold and precious metals?

3. Do you think there is anything that the international community can do to put pressure on Burkina Faso to keep children out of the mines? Explain.


– Compiled by Carrie Waltemeyer for NewsHour Extra

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