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Although banned since August 30, child labor in mines continues in Cameroon: our Observer has observed it, with supporting images, in the Kambélé mine, in the east of the country. He went to this artisanal mined site on October 4, more than a month after the Minister of Mines banned children from entering the mines, following several landslides.

Children sitting in the mud, sieve or basin in hand. Other feet and hands plunged into a pond of water. They seem not yet ten years old and are already mining gold from the Kambélé mine, a village near Batouri in the East region, not far from the Central African border.

On October 4, journalist and blogger Jean-Charles Biyo’o Ella went there to see the situation. He sent his images to our editorial staff.

“Children practically grow up in the mine”

Thousands of children come to the Kambélé mining site every day to look for gold. There are children under the age of 14, but there are also very young children. The youngest I found was barely a year old. They accompany their parents especially the women who come to work in the mine. Some children just have the role of babysitting their youngest while the mother works in the mine.

Those a little older dig unprotected in the mud to extract gold which they will give to artisanal miners in exchange for some nest egg. Yet in the village, there is a primary school right next to the mine. On the first days of the start of the school year in September, there were 200 schoolchildren. A month later, there are only 45 in the school. The children left school to go back to the mines.

Children in the Kambélé mine sitting near a pond.
Children in the Kambélé mine sitting near a pond. © Jean-Charles Biyo’o Ella

As parents cannot afford school fees and supplies, they find that the time the child spends in school would be more beneficial to the family if he worked in the mine. They don’t go to school and practically grow up in the mine.

However, a ministerial decree taken on August 30 by Gabriel Dodo Ndocké, the Minister of Mines had strictly prohibited “the access of minor children to exploration and mining sites throughout the national territory, as well as any form of work inside said sites involving children under the compulsory age of education as provided for by the regulations in force [la scolarité est obligatoire entre 6 et 14 ans, NDLR]”.

A decision that follows landslides at the end of May and which caused a dozen deaths, including young adolescents, in the mines of Kambélé. But according to our Observer, this has not been followed up. He pursues :

On the contrary, there were two to three times more children in the mines in October than last June. Police checks, although unannounced, are not regular. However, there should be a permanent control to fight against the phenomenon. Children are also exposed to various diseases due to their constant contact with toxic products such as mercury [utilisé pour séparer l’or du sable, NDLR].

Young boys present in the Kambélé mine.
Young boys present in the Kambélé mine. © Jean-Charles Biyo’o Ella

“People who work in mines cannot afford to take care of themselves”

Bezalel Ndifo Wafo is a general practitioner at the Catholic hospital complex in Batouri. He is regularly confronted with cases of pathologies linked to exposure to mercury. He tells :

By being permanently exposed to mercury, it can be accidentally inhaled or ingested. And in this case, the respiratory tract or the digestive system can be affected. The patients we see have lung problems, lesions in the esophagus or stomach. However, mercury is not easily eliminated. These lesions can therefore lead to complications in the long term. One can also develop allergies on the level of the skin.

People washing minerals in a water pond.
People washing minerals in a water pond. © Jean-Charles Biyo’o Ella

Women are particularly vulnerable. They are immersed in water up to waist level. Obviously the genitals are in contact with this water soiled with mercury. They can therefore have vaginal lesions. Exposure to mercury can also impact fetal life and condemn the neurological or psychomotor development of the unborn child.

Unfortunately, the people who work in the mines cannot afford to take care of themselves. When they come, we treat the symptoms that are present. But once relieved, patients return to the mines and come back with even more severe symptoms. We must therefore do in-depth examinations or deploy a technical platform, but either we do not have it or they will not be able to pay. The populations must therefore be made aware of the dangers associated with exposure to mercury.

Contacted by the editorial staff of the Observers of France 24, Nico Landry Ndorman, regional delegate of the Ministry of Mines in the Eastern region, did not respond to our requests.

According to an Interpol report published in 2021, the annual artisanal gold production in Cameroon is estimated at two tonnes, most of which is produced in the eastern region.

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