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Children Mine Gold in Africa

All That Glitters Is Gold — and Is Mined by Kids in Africa

Africa: a continent of untold riches in gold and diamonds, contrasted with shocking poverty of citizens living on the surface just above the treasure trove. Veins of gold run through the earth demanding to be mined — a job dangerous enough for adults, but savagely brutal when you're four years old.

The AP conducted a yearlong study of six African gold mines and found more than 150 child miners to interview, tracking the gold from kid to ring. The United Nation's labor agency estimates that there are 100,000 to 250,000 child miners in West Africa alone. One of these, a 12-year-old miner (who is less than four feet tall) was lured to the trade after his village's only teacher left, and the global price of gold spiked. He and two friends hiked with their recruiter for 100 miles, to the mine where the boys live, sleeping on mattresses crammed between adults. It's not just boys lured into the trade; girls also start as young as four and can be working full-time by the age of 10.

To see how the children mine,


Some boys squeeze down mine shafts as narrow as manholes that run 100 feet deep — and some get bags of dirt that men have mostly picked clean of gold, only crumbs remain. The boys pour mercury (the same substance that attacks the brain and can cause retardation and blindness) into their bare hands and rub it into the mud to coax the gold crumbs to stick.

After the treasure has changed hands up to the eventual gold dealers, it's far removed from the young sources. One gold merchant said when asked about child miners, "We don't live in the bush, so we have nothing to do with child labor. We just buy gold." The boys know the sweat value of the metal. The 12-year-old says, "If I have one wish, it's that I might someday have a little bit of money. Sometimes I dream that one day I'll own something made of gold."

The complication comes as it's near impossible to know which gold has been extracted from the earth by small hands — by the time it becomes jewelry, its provenance is all but mute.


Join The Conversation
UnDave35 UnDave35 8 years
"is africa ever in the news for anything good." As soon as they do anything good, I'm sure we'll hear about it.
hypnoticmix hypnoticmix 8 years
"Sometimes I dream that one day I'll own something made of gold." Very sad statement considering they already do.
MartiniLush MartiniLush 8 years
I am an absolute jewelry fiend, but this is just sobering. I do buy lots of estate jewelry, which I have melted down and recast into original pieces - seems like I will be doing more of that, until the jewelry industry can start tracking their silver and gold the way they can track gems, so you can know which mines they came from.
True-Song True-Song 8 years
I stick to antique/estate jewelry (it's so much prettier anyways), but even that makes me feel kind of dirty.
stephley stephley 8 years
According to the World Bank, more than 100 million people depend on small scale mining for survival - and children are used to mine silver as well. It is possible to buy recycled gold - or at least stick to estate jewelry. As Torg says, we're just talking about shiny rocks.
True-Song True-Song 8 years
All for shiny rocks. Jewelry is so...the industry just seems so shady.
pinky23 pinky23 8 years
this post was very informative. thank you for sharing.
nyaradzom2001 nyaradzom2001 8 years
is africa ever in the news for anything good.
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