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Silence far from golden for child labourers in the mines of Uganda



Agaba has no sense of a future beyond the mercury-laced waters of the gold mining pit he calls home in Mubende, central Uganda. Last year, after his mother died, the 15-year-old fled his home and became one of the 15,000 children reportedly working in artisanal gold mining in the country.

One of the oldest children working at this mine – some of those he works alongside are as young as eight – Agaba is engaged in what the International Labour Organisation (ILO) describes as the worst form of child labour. He spends up to 11 hours a day bending over makeshift gold pans, sluicing gold ore while standing ankle-deep in ponds of mercury and water.

Some of the children here, like Agaba, work for themselves, selling their bits of gold to middlemen who gather daily at the edges of the mine. The smaller children mainly work for older miners. Most are unaware of the dangers they face.

An aerial view of an artisanal mining complex in Uganda. The mining area is seen in the foreground.
An aerial view of an artisanal mining complex in Uganda. The mining area is seen in the foreground. Photograph: Eelco Roos/Hivos

According to official records, however, the gold they unearth doesn’t exist. The work of children who risk their lives for a few dollars a day is fuelling a lucrative trade in illegal gold that is smuggled out of the country and into products and supply chains worldwide.

Following UN sanctions on Ugandans buying from traders in the nearby Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2007, Uganda’s official gold exports dropped from 6.9 tonnes in 2006 to 14 kilos in 2015.

Yet according to analysis by the Dutch research company Somo and the Stop Child Labour coalition, gold exports from illegal artisanal mines amount to up to 2.8 tonnes a year.

“Officially there is no significant gold mining industry in Uganda, but the reality is that there is a thriving illegal gold trade where up to 30% of gold miners are children,” says Irene Schipper, a senior researcher at Somo.

“Our research shows that the difference between the official export figures and the actual amount of gold exported from Uganda is huge … This is an entirely unregulated industry with no checks in place at all.”

Gold from artisanal mines is bought by independent traders. One such trader, an information technology graduate who saw a business opportunity in the booming illegal gold trade after failing to get a job in Kampala, travels from mine to mine, buying gold and carrying it back to the capital.

“[We] take it to Kampala and sell mostly to Indians, who then export it to China and Dubai,” he said.

Gold is filtered on to companies that, unregulated and ignored by government officials, broker deals with overseas buyers.

“We buy the gold. We do not care where it is from. If you have the gold we shall buy it,” said the desk clerk for one such firm. “It is our business.”

According to Somo’s research, much of the gold mined by child labourers is smuggled through Uganda’s porous borders and mixed with official gold exports before being traded on the international markets.

“The main problem for the children is that they are only looking at the short-term possibility of earning money to survive, but the gold mines are disastrous for their futures,” says Schipper. “They will not escape this low paid and dangerous work. They all work with mercury and none seem to be aware of the dangers. It isn’t just governments who need to be addressing this. Companies need to be more vigilant in checking their supply chains and to take steps to eradicate the use of mercury in the mines where their gold is coming from.”

Using makeshift pans, children sluice gold ore while standing ankle deep in water
Using makeshift pans, children sluice gold ore while standing ankle deep in water. Photograph: Eelco Roos/Hivos

Local NGOs and child protection agencies working at the mines say they cannot stop children looking for mine work. With more than 60% of the country on less than $3 (£2.06) a day, the state education system in decline, and youth unemployment at about 65%, the children at Mubende mines consider themselves lucky to have jobs.

Agaba sees a better future for himself in mining than at the government school to which his father sent him.

“I felt squeezed in a corner. We all know that there is no future when you go to a government school, it was as good as not going to school,” he said. “There is nothing good that would have come out of it. At least here I make money.”

“It has become normal to us now,” says Stephen Turyahikayo, a researcher for the Centre for Research and Sustainable Solutions, a Ugandan NGO working at the mines. “Nobody seems to care about these children. Not the government. Not the companies.”

Agaba’s scarred hands are testament to the hard labour of his daily life. He says on a good day he makes 10,000 shillings, about $2.50. Every night he sleeps in a tent made of sticks and blue polythene paper, sharing with eight other boys who drift in and out of the local mines searching for work.

The ILO estimates that there are up to 1 million children working in mining globally. While efforts have been made to regulate the global gold trade, illegal and artisanal gold mining is still riddled with child labour, trafficking and sexual exploitation.

Children at work on a gold mine in UgandaChildren at work on a gold mine in Uganda. Photograph: Eelco Roos/Hivos

“What we are seeing in the small-scale gold mines of Uganda and across Africaand the rest of the world is the very worst forms of child labour associated with one of the world’s most valuable commodities,” says Nadine Osseiran, senior programmes officer at the ILO. “In the often unregulated and illegal artisanal gold mining sector there are no structures in place to protect these workers and it is impossible to stop gold dug by children entering global supply chains. There is almost no control over where gold comes from or where it is purchased.

“At the ILO we believe that child labour in gold mining could be eliminated in 10 years but, unfortunately, there is simply not the funding coming in to make this a reality.”

Although Uganda has taken some measures to tackle child labour, a ban on children working in the sector was not included in the country’s 2003 Mining Act.

The mines are all that children like Agaba have. “I am going to work here. Live here. Grow up and die here,” he says.

*Name changed to protect identity

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Statement: The Energy Sector Strategy 2024–2028 Must Mark the End of the EBRD’s Support to Fossil Fuels



The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) is due to publish a new Energy Sector Strategy before the end of 2023. A total of 130 civil society organizations from over 40 countries have released a statement calling on the EBRD to end finance for all fossil fuels, including gas.

From 2018 to 2021, the EBRD invested EUR 2.9 billion in the fossil energy sector, with the majority of this support going to gas. This makes it the third biggest funder of fossil fuels among all multilateral development banks, behind the World Bank Group and the Islamic Development Bank.

The EBRD has already excluded coal and upstream oil and gas fields from its financing. The draft Energy Sector Strategy further excludes oil transportation and oil-fired electricity generation. However, the draft strategy would continue to allow some investment in new fossil gas pipelines and other transportation infrastructure, as well as gas power generation and heating.

In the statement, the civil society organizations point out that any new support to gas risks locking in outdated energy infrastructure in places that need investments in clean energy the most. At the same time, they highlight, ending support to fossil gas is necessary, not only for climate security, but also for ensuring energy security, since continued investment in gas exposes countries of operation to high and volatile energy prices that can have a severe impact on their ability to reach development targets. Moreover, they underscore that supporting new gas transportation infrastructure is not a solution to the current energy crisis, given that new infrastructure would not come online for several years, well after the crisis has passed.

The signatories of the statement call on the EBRD to amend the Energy Sector Strategy to

  • fully exclude new investments in midstream and downstream gas projects;
  • avoid loopholes involving the use of unproven or uneconomic technologies, as well as aspirational but meaningless mitigation measures such as “CCS-readiness”; and
  • strengthen the requirements for financial intermediaries where the intended nature of the sub-transactions is not known to exclude fossil fuel finance across the entire value chain.


Download the statement:

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Complaint against unprofessional conduct of the DPC Kiryandongo district for aiding and abetting land grabbing in kiryandongo district.



The Commandant,

Professional Standards Unit, Uganda Police-Kampala.

Dear Sir/Madam;


We act for and behalf of the Lawful and bonafide occupants of Land described as LRV MAS 2 FOLIO 8 BLOCK 8 PLOT 22 (FORMERLY KNOWN AS RANCH 22).

Our Clients are residents of Nyamutende Village, Kitwara Parish in Kiryandongo District where they have lived for more than 30 years and sometime in 2017, they applied for a lease of the said Land to Kiryandongo District Land Board through the Directorate of Land Matters State House.

As they were still awaiting their Application to be processed, they were shocked to establish that the said land had been instead leased to and registered in the names of Isingoma Julius, Mwesige Simon, John Musokota William, Tumusiime Gerald, Wabwire Messener Gabriel, Ocema Richard and Wilson Shikhama, some of whom were not known to the Complainants. A copy of the Search is attached hereto

Our clients protested the above action and appealed to relevant offices, but were shocked to discover that the above persons had gone ahead and sold the same to a one Maseruka Robert.

Aggrieved by these actions, the Complainants appealed to the RDC who advised them to institute proceedings against the said persons, and assigned them a one Mbabazi Samuel to assist them to that effect. The said Mbabazi accordingly filed Civil Suit Noa 46 of 2019 against tne said registered proprietors at Masindi High Court challenging the illegal and fraudulent registration, sale and transfer of the subject land to Maseruka Robert.

While awaiting the progress of the case mentioned hereinabove, the Complainants were surprised to find that the said Mbabazi, instead of assisting them, he went into a consent settling the said suit on their behalf without their knowledge or consent. A copy of the Consent is attached hereto.

Among the terms of the said consent Judgment was that the residents would be compensated without specifying how much and would in return vacate the Land.

As if that was not enough, Maseruka Robert and Mbabazi Samuel are going ahead to execute the said Consent Judgment by forcefully evicting the occupants without compensation which has prompted the complainants to challenge the said Consent by applying for its review and setting aside at Masindi High Court which is coming up for hearing on the 29th March 2023. A copy of the Application is attached hereto.

Sensing the imminent threat of eviction, we also filed an application for interim stay of execution of the said consent to avoid rendering their application for review nugatory but unfortunately the same could not be heard on the date it was fixed for hearing (6th February 2023). A copy of the Application is attached hereto

On Thursday last week, three tractors being operated by 6 workers of a one Mbabazi Samuel [the very person who had been entrusted to represent our Clients to secure their Land through Civil Suit No.46 of 2019] encroached close to 50 acres of our Clients’ land and started ploughing it but our Client’s protested and chased them away.

We have however been shocked to receive information from our Clients that on Sunday at Mid night, 3 police patrols invaded the community in the night and arrested community members; Mulenje Jack, Steven Kagyenji, Mulekwa David, Ntambala Geoffrey, Tumukunde Isaac 15 years, Kanunu Innocent, Mukombozi Frank, Kuzara, Rwamunyankole Enock, and took them to Kiryandongo Police Station where they are currently detained.

We strongly protest the illegal arrests and detention of our Clients as this is a carefully orchestrated land grabbing scheme by Maseruka Robert and Mbabazi Samuel who are  receiving support from the DPC Kiryandongo.

The purpose of this Letter therefore is to request your good office to investigate the misconduct, abuse of office and unprofessionalism of the said DPC Kiryandongo District and all his involvement in the land grabbing schemes on land formerly known as Ranch 22.

Looking forward to your urgent intervention,

C.C The Head Police Land Protection Unit Police Head Quarters Naguru

CC The RDC Kiryandongo District

CC The Chairman LCVKityadongo District

CC The Regional Police CommanderAlbertine Region

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The Executive Director of Witness Radio Uganda talks about the role played by Witness Radio in protecting communities affected by large-scale agribusinesses in Kiryandongo district in an interview with the ILC.



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