A new report by IRIN outlines how it has become common in Burkina Faso for schoolchildren to work in artisanal mines, where they crush stones, sieve dust, transport water and cook.
Others go to the mines during school off-days on Thursdays and Saturdays, said Moussa Ouedraogo, the Ministry for National Education and Literacy director for the country’s northern region.
According to Ouedraogo, 3,300 children work in the mines during school off-days. Reports have stated that in some cases children as young as six can be found in the mines.
For some children, the opportunity to make money in their village is a tempting offer, as the alternative if they do not do well in school is to leave their homes and travel to other parts of the country to find work.
Although primary school enrolment in the country is at 57.8 percent, only 33.9 percent of pupils complete school nationally, and just 24 percent in rural areas.
Hassane Sankara of the Cadre de Concertation des ONG pour l’education de Base, a coalition of local NGOs working to improve education, expressed concern that all the investment made in recent years to boost school attendance could be lost due to the mining industry’s continual pull of children away from education.
These investments include in 2001 when the government launched a $118 million project aiming to increase to 70 percent the number of children enrolled in primary school by 2010, and 100 percent by 2015.
In an interview with IRIN, Education Minister Koumba Boly stated that a decree will be issued when schools re-open in mid-September banning all children from mining sites.
Herman Zoungrana of Terre Des Hommes explained that the problem lay in the fact that “We are witnessing the birth of new villages and the new settlers come along with their children.”
He also explained that it is difficult to completely take children out of the mines because they often migrate with their families whenever new mining sites are discovered, which means they may find themselves in locations far from villages and the closest school.
Even if a school were available, the poverty that many in Burkina Faso find themselves is such that many children work at the mines to support their families. Most of the children get paid one-third of what they produced, with the mine owner taking the rest. Many of them could earn around $100 a month this way.
According to Moussa Ouedraogo, the regional director of education in the north of the country, the Education Ministry this year distributed food to schools in the region known for its poor harvests to prevent children from joining the mining sites.
“But we were able to cover only part of the school year with food distribution,” he said. Poverty and hardship continue to relegate the importance of education and many people, including children, continue to take up mining in order to survive.