More than 20,000 children are subjected to harsh and unsafe conditions [press release] while working in Malian gold mines, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] reported [text, PDF] Tuesday. Children reportedly carry heavy ore from the mining shafts and are exposed to mercury inhalation, which causes severe health problems. The gold mined by Malian children as young as six years old is then exported through the international stream of commerce with Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates as the industry's two major purchasers. Although Mali's government adopted a National Action Plan for the Elimination of Child Labor in June 2011, HRW says the plan has not been adequately enforced. HRW reports that there is no regulation or inspection of the mines, even though under both Malian and international law hazardous labor is prohibited for children under the age of 18. Furthermore, the Mali government has allegedly failed to provide education for the children working in mines, and those who do attend school struggle academically. Most of the children work in the mines with their parents to supplement the family income. However, children who work alone in the mines are sometimes exploited and abused by relatives or other people who take their pay and some girls are sexually abused. The report calls on all governments to:
support a strong international legally binding instrument on mercury that requires governments to implement mandatory action plans for mercury reduction in artisanal gold mining. The action plans should include strategies to end the use of mercury by children and pregnant women working in mining, and public health strategies to address the health effects of mercury poisoning.HRW urged the Mali government and international donors to take actions to end the dangerous practice of child labor in Mali's gold mines.
In November, HRW reported that Chinese copper mining companies in Zambia routinely violate national and international labor standards [JURIST report]. The report described poor health and safety standards, regular 12-hour and 18-hour work shifts and anti-union activity. Workers also reportedly face the threat of being fired if they refuse to work under unsafe conditions. Although not reported to the government, injuries and health standards are in violation of Zambian and international labor law. In October, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] reinstated [JURIST report] a lawsuit by Papua New Guinea [BBC backgrounder] citizens against mining company Rio Tinto [corporate website] on claims of genocide and war crimes. Allowing the suit under the Alien Tort Statute [text], the court ruled that it may proceed due to the Australian mining company's substantial operations in the US.