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Uganda: Children involved in artisanal gold mining at the expense of schooling

"Minors; A big challenge to the mining industry in Busia"

At a gold processing site in the new Tiira Town Council, Sikuda Sub County, a group of youth and minors are huddled over water filled pans trying to extract gold particles. We ask one of them, 16years old, if he shouldn’t be at school. The boy straightens up from his pan, looks at us in amusement and points to an expectant woman, likely in her mid 20s, and proudly says:  “That’s my wife over there. As you can see I have responsibilities"...

The Tiira Small Scale Miners Association (TSSMA) secretary explains that the gold trade in Busia has been handed down for generations since 1930 when mining started in the district. Children are raised with a mentality that gold mining is the family source of income so it’s normal to find minors working in mines or at processing centres. Hanging on the wall of the tiny office housing TSSMA, is a chart detailing the guidelines of operations for members to adhere to. Much as it’s clearly stipulated that minors are not allowed to work, it doesn’t deter them neither does there seem to be efforts to stop them.  Resultantly the rate of illiteracy in the district and school dropout is alarmingly high.

Nancy Lillian Akitwi, a parish chief Mawero in Buteba Sub County, notes that the case there is alarmingly worse. Gold mining is in two villages. “Here you can’t even talk of school; they’ll laugh at you. They’ll ask what you, who has gone to school, have over them.  Yet the level of financial illiteracy is equally high. When one gets money they look for another woman to marry. Young girls of course follow the money too. We really need help, ” says Ms Akitwi. Akitwi narrates how, following her deployment as the parish chief seven years ago, it was even more challenging engaging the mining communities on issues of child labour, HIV/AIDS and education.