More than 215 million children are working throughout the world, with over half subjected to the worst forms of child labour, including sexual and labour exploitation, United Nations experts on contemporary forms of slavery and sale of children have said.
“One of the most abhorrent forms of child slavery is that found in mining and quarrying, in which children start work from the age of three,” said the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, Gulnara Shahinian. “Children, the majority of whom is boys, working in this sector are treated as commodities and face particular, and in some cases a combination of, physical, psychological, economic and sexual exploitation not found in other areas where children work.”
Recent reports, the human rights expert said, show that with the current economic crises there is more reliance on commodities such as gold. “This demand has increased the numbers of boys and girls working in slavery like conditions within mines and quarries,” Ms. Shahinian said.
“The combined elements of coercion, fear, restriction on freedom of movement and complete dependence on the employer exhibit characteristics which amount to contemporary forms of slavery,” the Special Rapporteur said. The impact of these forms of abuses is not only immediate, but has long-term harmful repercussions on the children and the children’s children.
“During my country visits, I have seen how unscrupulous employers take advantage of children’s small physique for artisanal mining which results in their stunted growth. In artisanal mining, both boys and girls handle highly toxic chemicals to extract minerals exposing them to irreversible health damages,” she noted.
“They also endure physically demanding work where they have to carry heavy loads and stand, dive or squat for long hours in order to extract mineral ore. In quarries, children dig out stones, transport them on their heads and backs and spend long hours crushing stones into smaller pieces to be used in the construction industry,” Ms. Shahinian said.
The Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, Najat Maalla M’jid, said “the sexual exploitation of children is a serious human rights violation which gravely compromises the integrity, health and development of children, as well as the full enjoyment of their rights. Sexual exploitation of children has a long-lasting impact on the victims.”
She added that “Although States and the whole international community have undertaken, via the ratification of international and regional instruments and other initiatives, to combat this phenomenon, the sexual exploitation of children in countries of all regions persists and reaches sometimes alarming levels.”
Ms. Maalla M’jid asked states to fulfil their responsibility to protect, rehabilitate and reintegrate victims, provide reparation for damage caused to children, to penalize those responsible, to change certain social norms, and to ultimately prevent this phenomenon.
On World Day Against Child Labour marked on 12th June 2012, Ms. Shahinian and Ms. Maalla M’jid shared the International Labour Organization concerns that efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labour are slowing down, and called for a boosted global campaign to end the practice.
They also reiterated their support to the various initiatives undertaken in view of achieving the effective abolition of child labour.