CLC Member Human Rights Watch Press Release: Tanzania — Hazardous Life of Child Gold Miners

For Immediate Release

Tanzania: Hazardous Life of Child Gold Miners
Government, World Bank, Donors Should Address Child Labor in Mines

Two 13 year old boys digging for gold in a mine in Mbeya region, Tanzania. (c) 2013 Justin Purefoy


(Dar Es Salaam, August 28, 2013) – Children as young as eight-years-old are working in Tanzanian small-scale gold mines, with grave risks to their health and even their lives, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The Tanzanian government should curb child labor in small-scale mining, including at informal, unlicensed mines, and the World Bank and donor countries should support these efforts.

The 96-page report, “Toxic Toil: Child Labor and Mercury Exposure in Tanzania’s Small-Scale Gold Mines,” describes how thousands of children work in licensed and unlicensed small-scale gold mines in Tanzania, Africa’s fourth-largest gold producer. They dig and drill in deep, unstable pits, work underground for shifts of up to 24 hours, and transport and crush heavy bags of gold ore. Children risk injury from pit collapses and accidents with tools, as well as long-term health damage from exposure to mercury, breathing dust, and carrying heavy loads. A 17-year-old boy who survived a pit accident told Human Rights Watch, “I thought I was dead, I was so frightened.”

“Tanzanian boys and girls are lured to the gold mines in the hopes of a better life, but find themselves stuck in a dead-end cycle of danger and despair,” said Janine Morna, children’s rights research fellow at Human Rights Watch. “Tanzania and donors need to get these children out of the mines and into school or vocational training.”

Many children who work in mining are orphans or other vulnerable children who lack basic necessities and support. Human Rights Watch also found that girls on and around mining sites face sexual harassment, including pressure to engage in sex work. Some girls become victims of commercial sexual exploitation and risk contracting HIV or other sexually transmitted infections.

Human Rights Watch visited 11 mining sites in Geita, Shinyanga, and Mbeya regions, and interviewed more than 200 people, including 61 children working in small-scale gold mining. The employment of children in dangerous mining work is one of the worst forms of child labor under international agreements, to which Tanzania is a party.

“On paper, Tanzania has strong laws prohibiting child labor in mining, but the government has done far too little to enforce them,” Morna said. “Labor inspectors need to visit both licensed and unlicensed mines regularly, and ensure employers face sanctions for using child labor.”

Child laborers, as well as children living near mining sites, are at serious risk of mercury poisoning. Mercury attacks the central nervous system and can cause lifelong disability to children, whose developing bodies are more easily affected by the heavy metal. The miners, including children, mix mercury with crushed ground ore and burn the resulting gold-mercury amalgam to release the gold, exposing them to poisonous mercury fumes. Even small children who are not working are often present during this process, which is sometimes carried out in the home.

Most adult and child miners are unaware of these health risks. Health workers lack training and facilities and are not equipped to diagnose or treat mercury poisoning. Existing laws and initiatives on mercury have largely failed to reduce mercury use.

Tanzania has helped craft a new global treaty to reduce mercury exposure worldwide, which more than 140 governments agreed upon in January 2013. The Minamata Convention on Mercury, named for the site in Japan of a mercury poisoning disaster half a century ago, will be adopted in October near Minamata.

“Tanzania helped bring about the Minamata Convention on Mercury,” Morna said. “Now, to protect the future of its own people and of its own growing mining industry, it needs to take the lead to protect its children – by monitoring, testing, and treating them for mercury exposure and getting them out of the mines.”

Working in the mines interferes with children’s education. Children working in mining sometimes skip classes or drop out of school altogether. Teachers told Human Rights Watch that school attendance and performance decreased when a gold mine opened nearby. In addition, many adolescents seek full-time employment, including in mining, because they lack access to secondary school or vocational training.

A 15-year-old boy in the Geita district summed up the impact of mining on his life: “It is difficult to combine mining and school. I don’t get time to go through tutoring [which takes place on the weekends]. I wonder about the mine, it distracts me…. One day … I fell sick [after mining and missed classes]. I had pain all over my body.”

The Tanzanian government should expand access to secondary school and vocational training and improve child protection, Human Rights Watch said. The government and donors should provide financial and political backing for the new action plan on the most vulnerable children and include orphans from mining areas in the Tanzania Social Action Fund’s program of grants and conditional cash transfers to vulnerable populations.

The World Bank and other donors to the mining sector should also support steps to end child labor in mining and reduce the exposure of children and adults to mercury, Human Rights Watch said. For example, they should help children transition from work in unlicensed mines to schooling, and ensure that newly licensed mines do not use child labor. A current US$55 million World Bank project to support the mining sector does not directly address child labor.

The gold industry has a responsibility to ensure it does not benefit directly or indirectly from unlawful child labor, Human Rights Watch said. Yet most gold traders Human Rights Watch interviewed in Tanzania had no procedures to keep gold mined by children out of their supply chains.

Small traders typically purchase gold directly at the mines or in mining towns and then sell it to larger traders in Tanzania. Sometimes the gold passes through several intermediaries before reaching the traders who export the gold. According to the Tanzanian government, small-scale miners produced about 1.6 tons of gold in 2012 – worth about US$85 million.

The top destination for gold from Tanzanian small-scale mines is the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Gold is also exported to Switzerland, South Africa, China, and the United Kingdom.

“Whether small or large, Tanzanian or global, businesses should avoid becoming entangled with unlawful child labor in their supply chain,” Morna said. “As those with the buying power, gold traders have leverage over their suppliers. They should use it to protect children and to protect consumers from buying gold tainted by child labor.”

For selected accounts from the report, please see below.

“Toxic Toil: Child Labor and Mercury Exposure in Tanzania’s Small-Scale Gold Mines” is available at:

For more Human Rights Watch reporting on Tanzania, please visit:

For more information, please contact:
In Dar Es Salaam, Janine Morna (English): + 255-75-778-3770; or + 1-646-575-6400; or  
In Dar Es Salaam, Juliane Kippenberg (English, French, German): +255-75-905-7955; or +1-917-213-4228; or
In New York, Zama Coursen-Neff (English): +1 917-519-6512; or +212-216-1826; or; or follow on twitter @ZamaHRW
In Nairobi, Agnes Odhiambo (English, Swahili): +254-72967-1187 (mobile); or

Accounts from Tanzanian child miners in “Toxic Toil”
“I was digging with my colleague. I entered into a short pit. When I was digging he told me to come out, and when I was about to come out, the shaft collapsed on me, reaching the level of my chest … they started rescuing me by digging the pit and sent me to Chunya hospital.” – 13-year-old boy, Chunya district, December 2012

“One time the pit collapsed. It was September last year. I thought I was dead, I was so frightened. I was digging down and I went horizontally and then the rest of the land slid. I was just behind the landslide, not inside. Two of my friends [both adults] who were on the other side died. I was so scared. I just cried and despaired.” – 17-year-old boy, Kahama district, October 2012

“I was hurt from the instrument I use to dig. I was drilling. I was sent to hospital. I hurt a toe. The whole nail was peeled off. I took medicine. When I was drilling I drilled on the stone and then the instrument lost direction and landed on my foot…. I was 12 [when the accident happened].” – 13-year-old boy, Chunya district, December 2012

“[I] once knocked till my nail was removed. I was taken to a hospital and they put a bandage…. I was seven years old. It was a hammer that hit me…. [I am] scared a lot, nowadays I do not prefer crushing, I do other processes.” – 10-year-old girl, Kahama district, December 2012

“A lot of men approach me … always showing me money…. Sex work is very common. [There are] many women coming from town…. I had a friend who is doing that. Most of those are working in the bar. Sometimes they stay here [on the mine] … they sacrifice themselves in the forest. They create a hut and stay.” – 15-year-old girl working in mining, Chunya district, December 2012

“It’s a bad situation here. There are no latrines and no water for bathing…. I do not like it here. Men want to have relationships…. A guy came to the restaurant and said I want you to be my girlfriend and to make you laugh, because I love you … Later when I refused, he said I was foolish. There have been many other cases like this. Some come to buy you food or soft drinks…. I would like to go to Mwanza [the capital of the region] and get tuition to go to school there again.” – 16-year-old girl selling food on a mining site, Kahama district, October 2012


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Niger’s Wahayu Endure Domestic and Sexual Enslavement

By Sharon L. Fawcett, CLC Contributing Writer

Niger’s Tahoua region has a history of enslavement dating back to the early 18th-century arrival of the Touaregs, who brought slavery-like practices with them. Today, young girls and women sold as domestic and sexual servants are the victims of this centuries-old scourge.

Although the Nigerien government has maintained, since 2005, that slavery no longer exists in Niger, the U.S. Department of Labor’s (USDOL’s) 2013 Trafficking in Persons report and a joint report by UK-based non-governmental organization Anti-Slavery International and Niger-based Timidria, suggest otherwise. According to these reports, it is not uncommon for Nigerien girls to become the victims of human trafficking and forced labor.

In Niger, a girl born into slavery can be sold by her master as a wahaya (plural: wahayu) or “fifth wife” to a wealthy or powerful man in the country’s Tahoua region—or in northern Nigeria—for as little as $400 US (200,000 CFA).

While owning a wahaya is a sign of affluence, wahayu “marriages” are illegitimate because they do not comply with several of the Islamic rules for marital unions. Since they are illegitimate wives, the women “wed” to men through this practice also bear the name “fifth wives”—not one of the four legitimate wives permitted by Islamic practises in a nation where Muslim is the predominant religion.

A wahaya works without pay; she is enslaved in domestic and sexual servitude. Tikirit Amoudar, a 45-year-old who became a wahaya at age 10, described her experience to Anti-Slavery International and Timidria researchers:

My workload was heavy: fetching water for all the family; fetching water for livestock (over 100 cattle); hulling and pounding grain…for food and foodstuffs; providing firewood for the family; [making] large preparations [for] community gatherings in the master’s fields…; washing up; preparing the mistresses’ and the master’s beds; looking after the children and keeping the courtyard clean…

Wahayu face constant physical and verbal abuse from their masters’ legal wives, who may view them as competition. They also live in fear for the welfare of any children they may bear for their master, as these children are considered his legitimate offspring and represent a threat to the inheritance of his other children. The master’s legitimate wife, or wives, may attempt to eliminate those threats through kidnapping, sorcery, or even murder.

Niger’s young wahayu are among the 10.5 million children worldwide who perform domestic child labor. Eighty-three percent of the wahayu interviewed by Anti-Slavery International and Timidria researchers had been sold into this form of servitude before age 15.

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Ten Facts about Niger’s “Fifth Wives” or WAHAYU

  • A wahaya (plural: wahayu) or “fifth wife” is a Nigerien girl or woman born into a slave caste and trafficked into domestic or sexual servitude.
  • A wahaya can be sold to a wealthy or powerful man for as little as $400 US (200,000 CFA).
  • The practice of “fifth wives” is most prevalent in Niger’s Tahoua region. Wahayu are also trafficked across the border, to northern Nigeria.
  • Eighty-three percent of the wahayu interviewed by Anti-Slavery International and Timidria researchers, for their joint report, had been sold into the practice before age 15—43 percent were sold between ages nine and 11, while 40 percent were sold between ages 12 and 14.
  • Another term used for a wahaya is sa daka, which translates to “put in the bedroom,” but in the context of a wahaya, can be interpreted as “shove her in the bedroom!” (with the intention of using her for sexual gratification).
  • Slavery was abolished in Niger in 1960, and national legislation was passed in 2003 to make it a criminal offense.
  • Niger has ratified a number of international conventions that the wahaya practice violates, including the International Labor Organization’s Minimum Age Convention (C138) and Worst Forms of Child Labor Convention (C182); the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution, and Child Pornography; and the U.N. Palermo Protocol on Trafficking in Persons.
  •  The first successful prosecution under Niger’s 2003 anti-slavery law was won by Hadijatou Mani, who became a wahaya at age 12, was forced to perform unpaid agricultural and domestic work, and endured regular beatings and rape. However, when the government failed to protect her newly-won freedom, Hadijatou Mani took her case before the Economic Community of West African States’ Court of Justice in 2008, which found Niger in breach of its own laws for failing to protect her.
  • According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s 2013 Trafficking in Persons report, in the past year Niger’s government has made progress in enforcing its 2010 Law on Combatting Trafficking in Persons, but efforts to identify victims (like the wahayu) in vulnerable populations remain weak.
  • The Nigerien government maintains that since March 2005, slavery no longer exists in Niger. Reports by the U.S. Department of Labor and non-governmental organizations suggest otherwise.


Compiled July 2013


“Countries that Do Not Legally Protect Children from Hazardous Work” Infographic

[Please click on the title above to view the infographic.]



This is the first in a series of  child-labor-related infographics in which we examine legal protections for children. It is important to note that many countries have good laws that protect children from exploitation, but they lack enforcement. A legal framework for protection is an important first step in safeguarding children. This infographic has been developed by our program partner the World Policy Analysis Center at UCLA’s Fielding School of Public Health.



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Please support the Child Labor Coalition’s efforts to protect children from hazardous and exploitative labor around the world. Click on the blue icon to donate now.



AFT News Release: AFT and Jamaica Teachers’ Association Launch Anti-Trafficking Project

OCHO RIOS, Jamaica—As the number of reported cases of child trafficking increases exponentially in Jamaica and in the United States, the American Federation of Teachers and the Jamaica Teachers’ Association announced today a joint anti-trafficking project to address the issue in both countries.

The pilot project—drawing on materials to be developed by the AFT and the JTA, non-governmental organizations, governments, community groups and others—will raise awareness among students about the dangers of trafficking for forced labor or sexual exploitation, will provide educators with resources to identify children who might be at risk, and will harness community resources to try to protect those children and advocate in schools, government agencies, legislative bodies and other venues on behalf of survivors on behalf of survivors.

The International Labor Organization estimates there are nearly 5.5 million children worldwide involved in trafficking. A recent study found that from 2006-2010, 4,870 children in Jamaica were reported missing—70 percent of them girls. Nearly 60 percent did not return home. The U.S. State Department, the ILO and Amnesty International have found that trafficking of children from rural areas into tourist areas for sexual exploitation is a serious problem in Jamaica and throughout the Caribbean. The U.S. Justice Department estimates that as many as 300,000 U.S. children are at risk of being trafficked.

“Teachers have a powerful role to play in ensuring their students are safe,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten after speaking at the JTA’s annual conference. “With the materials that we develop for educators and other school staff, we can help empower students to try to avoid dangerous situations and we can help connect children in need to available services in their community.”

Weingarten said, “This is the kind of union we are—finding solutions and solving problems so we can reclaim the promise of public education for every child in every community.”


The AFT, a co-chair of the Child Labor Coalition,  represents 1.5 million pre-K through 12th-grade teachers; paraprofessionals and other school-related personnel; higher education faculty and professional staff; federal, state and local government employees; nurses and healthcare workers; and early childhood educators.

Contact: Janet Bass/202-879-4554/



Safe Foreign Travels: Learn about the Dangers of Human Trafficking

International travel allows you to experience different cultures, but vacations that are meant to be carefree and fun pose some threats as well. Among these threats is the risk of becoming a victim of human trafficking.

An estimated 5.5 million children are victims of human trafficking globally. Everyone, but especially young women, must stay alert when traveling abroad and make responsible, smart decisions to avoid falling victim to ruthless human traffickers. When traveling keep these tips in mind:

  • Know the facts. Before you travel make sure you are informed about the prevalence of human trafficking. Find out information about who are most likely victims, what warning signs to look for, and what steps you can take if you find yourself in a precarious situation.
  • Register with the local U.S. embassy. Know the address and telephone number of the embassy closest to where you are staying. Alert them of your travel plans and keep the contact information with you at all times. Find a full listing of U.S. embassies around the world here.
  • Protect your passport: Do not give your passport to anyone to keep or hold on to. Make sure you keep a copy of your passport information in a safe place where only you can find it.
  • Beware of strangers. Sex traffickers often seem harmless and might be well-dressed, young, and good looking. Don’t ever tell a stranger your full name, where you are going, or if you are staying alone.
  • Avoid unsafe situations. You should avoid traveling alone, at night, or on deserted side streets. If you think you are being followed, find a crowded place. Don’t hesitate to alert police to your suspicions, and give friends and family members a description of the potential perpetrator.

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