By Diana Taremwa
The minister for Karamoja Affairs, Mr John Byabagambi, recently issued a directive to all parents in Karamoja Sub-region to eject children from mines in the area especially during school time.
This is a step in the right direction considering that child labour is rife in karamoja mines and has been going on for a long time unabated.
Not that this directive is the magic panacea for child mining.
In fact, such directives are often ignored and do little in the absence of a clear law that is binding with an effective monitoring system to ensure compliance and for an economically driven industry such as mining.
Mining is one of the most hazardous activities.
It is arduous work for adults and not children. It is physically dangerous and strenuous, exposes children to unstable underground, heavy equipment and structures, toxic and explosive chemicals, and heat. The dangers to health and safety make it unfit for children under any circumstances.
Local government in Karamoja has done little to ensure that children are not involved in any form of mining activities.
Yet Karamoja is one of the most endowed mineral rich regions in Uganda .A 2011 survey by the Uganda department of geological survey and mines at the Ministry of Energy found that Karamoja is endowed with several minerals including gold, limestone, uranium, marble, graphite, gypsum, iron, wolfram, nickel, copper, cobalt, lithium and tin.
Several visits by Water Governance Institute to Karamoja have revealed that there many children working in mines and without any protective gear.
Most of these child miners are not enrolled in schools and work in the mines all year round, missing out on education, important life skills, and other job options in the future. Some even live on the mining sites.
Due to the unregulated and illegal nature of most artisanal mining activities, as well as the absence of protective structures, children are exposed to injuries and even death from falling rocks and pit collapses, sharp objects, and mercury poisoning.
These facts are a reminder that mining is an infringement on the rights of children to education, health, security, and protection from abuse.
Article 39 (2) of Uganda’s constitution provides for the right to education. However, this is a myth to the children working in the mines. No measures have been taken to tackle child labour in mining sites or to ban children from getting involved in mining. The current mining law of 2003 is also silent on the issue.
All these are reasons why the new mining law and policy should be expedited to allow for stronger government oversight over the sector and formalisation, regulation of artisanal mining activities.
Government formalization of the artisanal mining activities under an appropriate legal and policy framework, will, among other things, prohibit children, adolescents, and all forms of informal employment in the sector.
The legal framework should also include child labour monitoring systems developed and implemented at the district and community levels.
Also, government, with the support of the private sector, needs to increase access to and support for preschool and primary education, especially in mining communities. Opportunities for vocational and skills training, as well as apprenticeship programs, should be easily available and accessible to children and youth from mining areas.
This support should extend to children who are unable to continue to secondary schools due to their inability to pay school fees.
At the community level, parents who engage their children in mining must be sensitized to the potential hazards of mining on children, such as the health impact of mercury exposure.
Government seeks to achieve sustainable development in the mining industry but its current legal framework doesn’t ensure that mining activities are environmentally sound and socially responsible.
Diana Taremwa is an extractives officer at Water Governance Institute