The Malian government should take immediate action to address child labor in mining instead of denying it, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch published an in-depth report on the issue in December 2011, but Malian authorities attacked this research at a news conference earlier in April 2013 and rejected well-documented evidence that child labor is used in the country’s mines.
“The recent statements by the Malian government call into question its political will to end child labor in mining,” said Babatunde Olugboji, deputy program director at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities in Mali should publicly renew their commitment to help children leave work in mining and get an education instead.”
Human Rights Watch conducted field research in artisanal gold mines in Kéniéba and Kolondiéba circles in 2011 and interviewed more than 150 people for its report. Children between the ages of 6 and 17 told the organization how they dug pits, worked underground in unstable mines, carried and crushed heavy ore, and used toxic mercury to extract gold. Such work is hazardous and prohibited under international and Malian law.
But at the news conference on April 10, officials from the ministries of Mining, Interior, and Justice questioned whether children present at the mining sites were actually performing labor, and Col. Allaye Diakité also questioned Human Rights Watch methodology, including the origins of photographs it published that show children at work. Human Rights Watch used photographs from both independent professional photographers as well as its own researchers, and said that the photographs support allegations made in its report.
Human Rights Watch is not the only organization to document the issue of child labor in Mali’s gold mines. A recent media report by the National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) highlighted the same issue.
Mali’s government has itself previously acknowledged the problem of child labor in artisanal gold mines, and devised a child labor action plan in June 2011 with a view to ending this practice.