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

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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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Livelihood

Witness Radio welcomes the World Bank’s intervention into Kawaala drainage channel project affected persons…

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By witnessradio.org Team

Kampala – Uganda – Witness Radio Uganda has welcomed the World Bank’s decision to intervene into its funded project which is dispossessing poor urban dweller at Kawaala Zone II, Lubaga division, Kampala district.

On March 4th, 2021, the World Bank Team held its first ever virtual meeting with other stakeholders including the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) over a forceful implementation Kampala Institution and Infrastructure Development (KIIDP 2) project.

On top of running to court to stop an illegal eviction, the residents through Witness Radio – Uganda lawyers raised a complaint to the World Bank to restrain its grantee (KCCA) from imposing a project they (residents) never participated in from the start.

In 2015, KCCA acquired USD 175 million loan from the World Bank and the International Development Association (IDA) for Kampala Institution and Infrastructure Development (KIIDP) project. However, part of the money (USD 17.5 million, which is 63 billion Uganda shillings) was earmarked to construct Lubigi Primary Channel.

Without following business and human rights standards, KCCA started using tricks aimed dispossessing the poor urban community at Kawaala including; hiding under section 72(1) cap 281 of the Public Health Act, and issued a notice to dwellers to pull down what it termed illegal structures erected on their land or otherwise, KCCA would do so at the cost of residents, just to cause a property loss to them.

In a meeting chaired by Martin Onyach-Olaa, a Task Team Leader, Senior Urban Specialist at the World Bank, faulted KCCA for failing to engage community including taking the contractor to the ground without their notice.

“The project affected community have valid grievances, which must be attended to in the interest of Kawaala project” Said Onyach-Olaa

The representatives from the affected community accused KCCA of intimidation, undertaking a forceful survey, sidelining and usurping powers of elected local leaders, extortion and undermining business and human rights standards before and during the implementation of the World Bank project.

“I was threatened and forced to participate in KCCA valuation exercise of my properties and I never understood what was done. I was even lured to sign on certain documents that were in a language they never explained and no copy was left with me. I am opposed to the KCCA’s working and I will not allow them to come back on my property: Said Segue Abbas.

He added that when he sought wise counsel from his lawyers, he just realized that he had been duped.

Among other recommendations, KCCA was advised to embark on an inclusive exercise to identity project affected persons, properties to be affected by the project and ensure that surveys and property valuation exercises are undertaken in accordance within the law.

About the Grievance Redress Committee the KCCA claims they elected, the World Bank saw it important that the Grievance Redress Committee be put in place with a complaint book and functional internal appeal mechanism.

It was further emphasized that no Kawaala resident will be forcefully lose his/her under a project being funded by the World Bank.

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Livelihood

Oil palm growing threatening food security in Buvuma

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Some of the banana plantation gardens abandoned by farmers after they were compansented at Busamuzi sub county.

Buvuma, Uganda | Several people in Buvuma district have taken to oil palm growing at the expense of food growing. Fishing and subsistence farming were the mainstay of Buvuma residents prior to the introduction of oil palm growing.  

However, the residents have surrendered the biggest part of the land they used to plant food crops such as bananas, rice, cassava, maize and sweet potatoes on the main island to National Oil Palm Project-NOPP for the establishment of oil palm gardens. NOPP intends to operate on 10, 000 hectares of land.

The investor Buvuma – Oil Palm Uganda Limited-BOPUL, a subsidiary of Oil Palm Uganda Limited and Bidco Uganda Limited in Kalangala will use 6, 500 hectares of land while the out-growers will use the remaining 3, 500 hectares.

However, since their compensation in 2012, most of the residents have failed to secure alternative land for settlement and food production. Sarasino Namuyimba Ssekajjolo, the Buvuma District Council Speaker, says they have compiled enough information proving that most of the residents have not benefited in the first stages of the project.

He says they are considering tabling a motion halting further land acquisition in areas where NOPP has not concluded the exercise.  Ssekajjolo reveals that over 1000 residents have failed to make good use of the money they received as compensation for their land. 

A report compiled by Mary Namaganda, the Principal Assistant Curator at Makerere University Collage of Nature Sciences shows that land use change in Bugala [Kalangala] from natural vegetation to monoculture plantation has caused biodiversity loss due to the destruction of the natural habitat, soil degradation and pollution of soil and lake water resulting from the use of nitrate fertilizers, agrochemicals and effluents from the palm oil mill.  

BOPUL also intends to setup a mill. Godfrey Yiga, a resident of Kirongo says that he secured another piece of land in Jinja using the Shillings 59 million he received in compensation for his 5-acre piece of land containing a banana plantation, sweet plantains and mangoes. He, however, says that he couldn’t use the remaining balance to setup a new garden.   

Nasta Nantongo Kwagala, another resident and widow of the late Yosefu Kavamawanga who cares for seven children and three grandchildren, says NOPP compensated the tenants on her late husband’s land without her consent. She explains that by the time she applied for compensation, she was chased and stopped from farming on the land.   

George William Telebajo, another resident says the project took advantage of poverty in Buvuma to trick them into selling their land cheaply. He notes that several residents have ended up in jail for stealing food while others are now sleeping in wooden cubical at landing sites. 

Reports from the District Security Commit-DSC point to increased cases of food theft in different camps on landing sites and settlements in forest reserves. Juma Kigongo, the Buvuma Deputy Resident District Commissioner, says about 10 cases of food theft are reported at police and local councils-LCI every month in the four sub counties on the main island.  

These include Nairambi, Buwooya, Busamuzi and Buvuma town council. He, however, says most of the people involved in criminal activities are residents who accepted compensations but failed to put the money to good use. 

Wilson Sserunjogi, the Buvuma District Oil Palm Project Focal Person, says that many people have failed to put their compensation money to good use much as the project has tried to support them. He notes that for the past years they have been handling complaints and compensated thousands of residents fresh but they keep on coming back for more money after misusing it. 

“Residents and leaders are scared for nothing, Buvuma still has land for growing food and also NOPP is here to support them. We also compensated residents with land over 5 acres and above,” he said.         

Original Post: The Independent

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Livelihood

2,000 Karimojong flee to Teso in search for food

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Many Karimojong children are getting emaciated as a result of lack of enough food.

Kampala, Uganda | Several families in Napak district in the Karamoja sub-region have fled their homes into the Teso region to search for casual jobs. This follows the current food shortage which is hitting the region.

Joseph Lomonyang the Napak LC V chairperson says that over 2,000 people mainly from six sub-counties of Matany, Lopei, Lokopo, Lorengechora, Iriiri and Apeitolim have crossed to the neighbouring  Teso districts of Amuria, Katakwi, Kapelebyong and Soroti looking for food.

According to Lomonyang, the number of people to flee the district is most likely to go higher given the current hunger situation.

“Last year, very many people planted crops but all the crops got destroyed by floods making our people vulnerable,” he said.

Elijah Lobucel, the Lokopo sub-county chairperson said everyday mothers and their children walk while those who can afford the costs pay for transport to Teso.

“What we are advising them is not to go to Kampala streets, but if its going to Teso for work to get food it is not bad since the Itesot are brothers and sisters under Ateker cluster,” he said.

Jimmy Tebenyang, the district councillor for Ngoleriet sub-county in Napak district said many children were getting emaciated as a result of lack of enough food.

“There are families where you find children yawning from morning to evening without eating anything and that is why we are calling the government to come to the rescue of people,” he said.

Robert Okitoi, the LC V chairperson Amuria confirmed the presence of Karamoja families in the district and urged the Itesot families to treat the Karimojong as their brothers and sisters.

He also appealed to other district leaders in the Teso region to receive the people of Karamoja with a good heart and share the little they have.

“This is the situation that requires to share, I call upon the people of Amuria and Teso at large that not all the Karimojong are bad people, those who are bad disturbing to raid people of Teso are few and so we should not victimise every one because the law will deal with those raiding but let’s support the Karimojong families,” he said.

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Source: THE INDEPENDENT 

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