Overview of child labour in the artisanal and small-scale mining sector in Asia and Africa

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Helpdesk Query:
  • What data is available regarding the numbers of children involved?
  • What are the supply chains?
  • What data is available regarding the type of child labour involved in mining?
  • What are the positive and negative implications of child labour?

This rapid review synthesises data from academic, policy, and NGO sources on child labour in the artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) sector in Asia and Africa. ASM refers to small groups engaged in low-cost, low-tech, labour-intensive excavation and processing of minerals. Therefore, a clear distinction can be made between industrial and large-scale (usually licensed) mining on the one hand, and artisanal and small-scale (often unlicensed) mining on the other. Small-scale mining also includes all lower segments of mining (both non-mechanised and mechanised) that are not conventional industrial mining operations.

It is difficult to make estimates on the number of children working in mines due to a lack of clear data on the topic and the lack of uniformed definitions on what constitutes child labour. Moreover, ASM is by definition informal and often illegal, thus practitioners operate in secret making research difficult. However, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that there are more than one million children working in ASM, with the number increasing with the deagrarianisation of large areas in Africa and Asia.

The data on supply chains in ASM is limited and it is difficult to credibly assess when minerals involving child labour make it into Europe. Due to the informal and often illegal nature of ASM they have a longer, more complicated, supply chain where responsibility and traceability is lost along the way. However, there are a range of organisations – such as Fairtrade, Fairmined, OECD, and the Responsible Jewellery Council – that offer certification that guarantees that the entire supply chain is audited and free of elements such as child labour.

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