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Golden goal for child miners in Burkina Faso

Burkina Faso
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by Interpol

Child miners are finding an unlikely escape from goldmines, through football.

Burkina Faso is experiencing a 21st-century gold rush, which is drawing more and more children into mining. More than 20,000 children in the West African country are employed in the gold sector, which is made up of mostly unregulated artisanal mines. The work is dangerous and often deadly. Labouring up to 12 metres below ground, in suffocating darkness, children are often trapped when mines collapse.

But for families in Burkina Faso, employment opportunities are scarce. The collapse in the global price of cotton has savaged the country’s steady cotton production industry, leaving thousands out of work. Gold is now Burkina’s top export, worth $1.52 billion. 

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‘I can fill up to four or five bags a day with rocks,’ says Ansonzu Hawma, who started mining four years ago when he was 13 years old. ‘If there is any gold in the bags, we sell it; then I make some money.’

Ansonzu has never been to school and, like many children his age, the mines were his only option. Every franc he earns, he sends back to his family in the village near Dori, in the north of the country. They rely on his income for survival. ‘They have nothing,’ he explains. ‘No food to live.’

Groups in Burkina Faso are trying to draw children away from this dangerous work, using football. Africa’s favourite sport, it is universally loved by the child miners.

One organization, Coaching for Hope, offers young miners football-skills training, followed by literacy classes. Ansonzu, wearing a football shirt caked in dust, is one of the boys taking part.

These sessions cannot make up for a lost education. But they do offer an alternative to the mines, and encourage children to return to learning. UN statistics show that in developing countries, every year spent in education can boost future income by 10 per cent.

Rebecca Cooke

New Internationalist issue 490 magazine cover This article is from the March 2016 issue of New Internationalist.
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