A boom in Burkina Faso’s gold mining over the past four years has made the country one of Africa’s leading producers, but it is also luring children out of school.
The exact number of children abandoning schools nationally for the mines is still unclear, but many schoolchildren are known to work mainly in artisanal mines where they crush stones, sieve dust, transport water and cook. Others go to the mines during school off-days on Thursdays and Saturdays, said Moussa Ouedraogo, the Ministry for National Education and Literacy director for the country’s northern region.
“This does not mean they have given up school, but it is an indication that they could end up abandoning it altogether under the influence of parents and others who have made money there,” Ouedraogo told IRIN. He said 900 children skipped exams in the region this year and 3,300 others work in the mines during school off-days.
“We are sensitizing parents to curb the trend,” he said, but admitted that rewarding parents and children with bicycles, books and cash for abandoning the mines was having little effect.
According to the Ministry of Finance, gold has become the top export commodity. In 2011, it earned Burkina Faso 127 billion CFA (US$247 million). Between 2007 and 2011, it brought in 440 billion CFA, accounting for 64.7 percent of all exports and 8 percent of GDP. Production rose from 23 tons in 2010 to 32 tons in 2011. Gold mines are spread across the country’s northern, western, southwestern and central regions.
The government in 2003 revised its mining laws to encourage investors. Between 2007 and 2011 seven industrial mining sites opened in the West African country, where cotton was the main export cash crop.
Some 800 traditional mining sites, where most children work, have also opened, according to Terre Des Hommes, an international NGO promoting children’s rights and which is working with Burkina Faso’s Education Ministry to curb the negative effects the mining boom is having on education.