Ghana should better enforce its laws to prevent thousands of children from working at small-scale mines in Africa’s second-largest producer of gold, Human Rights Watch said.
The children work alongside family members or on their own, often to help pay school fees, the New York-based group said on Wednesday in a report based on interviews with mine workers mostly aged 15 to 17 years old. Many said they had been working since the age of 12.
“Ghana’s unlicensed gold mines are very dangerous places where no child should work,” according to the report. “Companies buying gold in Ghana should exert control over their whole supply chain to make sure they’re not benefiting from child labor.”
Small-scale mines employ about 1 million people and account for about 40 percent of total production of gold in Ghana. A majority of the small mines operate without licenses. The work is especially hazardous for children because it involves heavy lifting, sharp tools like shovels and picks, and exposure to mercury, which is poisonous, according to the report.
Mercury, used to extract gold, is “readily available in some gold trading shops and provided by gold traders to child laborers,” the report said. The artisanal mining sector accounted for 40.7 metric tons of bullion out of 107.9 tons produced in 2013, according to government data.
AngloGold Ashanti Ltd., Newmont Mining Corp. and Gold Fields Ltd. are the main industrial gold mining companies operating in the West African nation. They buy gold at licensed mines, Human Rights Watch said.