Thousands of children as young as eight-years-old are working in Tanzania's small-scale gold mines with grave risks to their health and lives, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report released Wednesday (August 28th).
"[The children] 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," HRW said. "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."
The rights group said many children who work in gold mines are either orphans or other vulnerable children who lack basic necessities and support. Girls near mining sites also face sexual harassment and pressure to become prostitutes, HRW found.
"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 HRW. "Tanzania and donors need to get these children out of the mines and into school or vocational training."
"The employment of children in dangerous mining work is one of the worst forms of child labour under international agreements, to which Tanzania is a party," HRW said.
Tanzania is Africa's fourth largest gold producer, and the precious metal is the top foreign exchange earner for the country, with exports topping $1.8 billion in the first six months of 2013, according to the central bank.
United States-based Human Rights Watch conducted research in October and December 2012 in mining areas in north-western and southern Tanzania, and in the cities of Dar es Salaam, Mwanza and Mbeya. Researchers visited 11 mining sites to form the basis of the report.