The adage "blood diamonds" has assumed a new dimension in as far as mining activities are concerned. At first, it was about illegal panners flocking to the mine fields of Chiadzwa in Mutare in pursuit of quick riches earned from the extraction of diamonds. But now, mining activities have taken a new twist, with children becoming the latest group of fortune-seekers who have joined the band-wagon of legal and illegal miners.
This scenario is reminiscent of child soldiers, who were used as pawns in the war games in war-torn countries.
Children as young as 15 years old are working in Kwekwe's small-scale gold mines, with grave risks to their health and even their lives.
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.
Many children who work in mines are orphans or other vulnerable children who lack basic necessities and support.
A recent visit to Kwekwe by CLS revealed that some teenagers in the area were not scrambling for academic excellence or getting some good job opportunities, but are hoping for a go at any of the mine shafts in search of the precious mineral.
The shafts are not those machine dug manholes that half dozen men can fit through easily but just small holes
Although mining has always been associated with masculinity and even more so, has been the domain of the brave and strong who can conquer the fears of having to go beyond the earth's crust to extract sought for minerals.
A 17-year-old boy who survived a pit accident recently told CLS, "I thought I was dead, I was so frightened."
While some have ventured into illegal mining activities out of their own desire, as in the case of 15-year-old Norman Marimo (not his real name) who operates from the gold mines of J.J under ZESA area in Kwekwe, others had no option but to join their parents on this job as a way of supplementing the family's income.
Norman said harsh living conditions at his Gokwe homestead where he stayed with his grandmother forced him to make the great trek to Kwekwe after some panners convinced him that he would make a better living.
"I left home (Gokwe) early last year to try my hand in mining after life had become very tough for us.
"Ever since I joined other panners here (in Kwekwe), things have improved for me although it is a very tough and dangerous job.
"You are always fighting with others for rich mining veins, to keep the gold that you would have extracted and also it is not healthy," he said.
Norman, who went to school only up to Grade Five says if he could find other means of survival, he would love to leave the job of being a panner and continue with his education.
"This is not the kind of life that people of my age should lead.
"If I had other means, I would have loved to leave this and pursue education further," he said.
Prosper Siziba (19) said he left school to be a miner.
He said he had no option but to join friends since he couldn't rebel against them in doing this job.
"This is the kind of work that we live on and I have no option but to do it since my parents and friends are into it," he said.
Prosper said he has seen a lot of harrowing experiences at the mines, with some panners often fighting, others killing their fellows in disputes over gold, while prostitution, drug peddling and abuse are also rife.
"There are women who come at the mines and indulge in all sorts of dirty scenes with the miners, all because of the money. Some of the child-miners who don't go to school sometimes supplement their job with prostitution with fellow panners who have the money, especially if the girls have not found any gold at that time," he explained.
He says that there are boys who conduct their illegal mining activities who are now regarded as the "breadwinners" of their families, with some boasting of owning goats and other livestock, among other things.
"I bought a cow early this year and the truth is that there is no need to go back to school because money makes our world go round. Not having it is a big problem," said the shy teenager.
Illegal mining is a crime that can lead to more than five years of imprisonment and it has cost the country millions of dollars in terms of revenue.
Ever since the discovery of diamonds in Chiadzwa, many people have been involved in this illicit activity that can lead to loss of life owing to shafts that can collapse and bury the illegal miners, poor ventilation of the shafts, or murders owing to greed of the precious minerals.
Also there is rampant violence at these sites among rival gangs. However, it is a sad development that children have not been spared as they have joined this dirty work that should be done by workers from companies or individuals who are licensed.
According to a report published by World Vision last year, of an estimated 215 million child labourers in the world, some 115 million work in especially hazardous conditions (according to the International Labour Organisation).
The report further explores the working conditions that these children are exposed to by citing the example of child miners working in the copper and cobalt mines in the Katanga province of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The report notes that "Amost 19 percent (of the child miners) had seen a child die on an artisanal mining site.
"Up to 87 percent experienced body pain, and many had been injured.
"Nearly 67 percent reported frequent or persistent coughing.
"Several girls had genital infections after working waist-deep in acidic water."