Despite a ban enacted on August 30 following multiple catastrophic mine collapses, children continue to work in mines in Cameroon. More than a month after the Ministry of Mines enforced the prohibition, an Observer from The Observer visited Kambele mine on October 4 and took photographs of minors working there.
Some people sit in the mud, clutching buckets or sieves. Others have their hands or feet submerged in a pond. Some of these children appear to be under the age of ten, but they are already working in a gold mine in Kambele, a community near Batouri in the country’s East Region, not far from the Central African Republic’s border.
On October 4, journalist and blogger Jean-Charles Biyo’o Ella traveled to Kambele to report on the situation. These are the photographs he gave to The Observer’s team.
“Children practically grow up in the mine,” says the report.
Thousands of children visit the Kambele mine every day in search of gold. There are many children under the age of 14, as well as some extremely small ones. I’ve seen children as young as a year old at the site. Their mothers, who work in the mine, accompany them. While their mothers are at work, some of the children come to look after their younger siblings.
Children that are a little older dig for gold without any form of protection. They bring whatever they discover to gold panners, who will purchase it for a small fee.
In the settlement, near the mine, there is an elementary school. There were 200 students when the school year began in September. There were just 45 children a month later. They’d all dropped out of school and returned to the mines.
Many parents cannot afford their children’s school tuition or the materials they require, so they feel that having the children work instead of attending school would be better for the entire family. As a result, these children do not attend school. In the mine, they practically grow up.
On August 30, however, the Minister of Mines, Gabriel Dodo Ndoke, issued a ban on children visiting “all mining sites across the country.” His judgement also expressly forbade school-aged children (ages six to fourteen in Cameroon) from working in these sites.
This decision was made after a mine collapse in Kambele in late May killed at least ten people, including numerous teenagers. However, according to our Observer, little has changed on the ground.
In October, there were two or three times as many kids in the mines as there were in June. Random checks are conducted by the police, but they are not done frequently. To truly control this situation, we’d need to keep an eye on it all the time.
The children are exposed to harmful compounds such as mercury in the mines and are at risk of becoming unwell. [Note from the editor: mercury is used to extract gold from sand.]
‘Miners at these mines don’t have the financial wherewithal to care for themselves.’
Ndifo, Bezalel Wafo works as a doctor at Batouri’s Catholic Hospital. He frequently sees people who have developed ailments as a result of mercury poisoning.
When humans are exposed to mercury on a regular basis, they may inhale or consume it unintentionally, causing damage to their digestive and respiratory systems. The individuals we see frequently have lung issues or esophageal or stomach lesions. Mercury is difficult to remove, and these lesions might cause long-term consequences. Allergies to the skin are also a possibility.
Mineworkers’ wives and daughters are particularly susceptible. They frequently stand in water up to their waists, putting their genitals in touch with mercury-contaminated water. They are prone to developing vaginal lesions. If they are pregnant, mercury exposure can have an impact on the fetus’ neurological and psychomotor development.
Unfortunately, miners do not have the financial wherewithal to care for themselves. We treat the visible signs when they arrive. However, once the patients have improved, they return to the mines, and when they return to visit us, their problems are frequently significantly worse. We need to do more extensive inspections with better technology, but either we lack the necessary equipment or they cannot afford therapy. So the most important thing to do is raise awareness about the dangers of mercury exposure.
The Observer reached out to Nico Landry Ndorman, the Ministry of Mines’ regional representative in the East Region, but he did not respond to our queries.
According to an Interpol report issued in 2021, Cameroon’s artisanal mining industry produces an estimated two tonnes of gold per year, the most of which is produced in the country’s east.
Source: The Observer