School principals raise red flag over child labour in gold mines

In the heart of Musoli village in Ikolomani, the sun sets in hues of gold, and the earth whispers tales of buried treasures.

Hundreds of school-going children, aged between 12 and 17, risk their lives searching for precious metals in the gold mining fields.

These children, both boys and girls, wade barefoot in local rivers, scooping out sand which they sieve in turns, hoping to find gold nuggets.

They sell any gold they find to unscrupulous businessmen at throwaway prices. Alarmingly, some schoolgirls have been sexually abused in exchange for gold dust, which they sieve in hopes of finding the precious metal.

This troubling trend has caught the attention of school principals and community leaders, who have raised alarm over the high rate of underage students dropping out of school to work in gold mines.

“Gold mining is undoubtedly the main source of economic growth for families around here. From whatever they get, they are able to fend for their families and pay school fees for their children,” said Everlyne Shinali, the principal of St Anne’s Musoli Girls High School.

Shinali emphasised the need to protect young children from the negative effects of gold mining.

“As a mother, teacher, and leader in the community, we must find ways to protect young children in primary and secondary schools against these hazards,” she said.

Shinali noted that absenteeism and early school dropout rates are alarmingly high in schools within the gold mining areas, eroding education standards.

“The lure of the gold mines is strong. With promises of quick money, children are enticed to abandon their education in favour of working long hours under hazardous conditions. For many families struggling with poverty, the extra income, however small, seems like a lifeline,” she added.

She called upon security chiefs within the gold mining areas to ensure that children remain in school and are not found working in the mines.

“The young women, including schoolgirls, working in the gold mines are sometimes sexually abused in exchange for gold, and this trend must be stopped,” she asserted.

Shinali urged both the county and national governments to formulate laws and policies, alongside the Gold Processing Bill, 2023, to protect school-going children from the negative impacts of gold mining.

Casper Mumia, the headteacher of St Paul’s Shibuye Boys Primary in Shinyalu constituency, recounted his experiences: “I visited some of the mining sites and found several of my students there. They were working in dangerous conditions, using rudimentary tools, and risking their lives for meagre earnings.”

“We’ve seen a significant number of students dropping out, particularly in the last two years,” Mumia said. “It’s not just about the immediate financial gain; it’s about the long-term consequences. These children are sacrificing their future for short-term benefits.”

Meanwhile, school principals continue their relentless campaign to bring children back to school.

Rich gold deposits have been found in areas such as Malinya, Rosterman, Shirumba, Kilingili, Shipeso, Isulu, Bushiangala, and Sigalagala in Shinyalu, Lurambi, and Ikolomani constituencies.