KAMBELE, EASTERN CAMEROON - Authorities in Cameroon say they are attempting to remove thousands of children working in gold mines along the country’s eastern border. Some of the children were displaced from the Central African Republic because of violence there and dropped out of school to mine gold for survival.
The 2021-2022 school year in Cameroon started Monday, and Cameroon's Ministry of Basic Education says thousands of children have not returned to class in areas along the border with the Central African Republic.
The government says many of the children prefer working in gold mines.
Auberlin d'Abou Mbelessa is mayor of Batouri, a town on the border.
Mbelessa said his district wants all children to immediately leave gold mining sites and go to schools. He said village chiefs and religious leaders in Batouri have been asked to visit all houses, markets, farms, churches, mosques and mining sites to tell everyone that without education the future of children looks barren.
Mbelessa said at least 300 of the children and teenagers are Central African Republic citizens displaced by violence and insecurity following the C.A.R.’s December 2020 general election.
Among the kids who have refused to leave mining sites is 15-year-old Joseph Goumba. Goumba said he fled from the C.A.R. in January when rebels attacked the town of Bossangoa to protest the reelection of President Faustin-Archange Touadéra.
He said he relies solely on gold mining for a living.
Goumba says education is the best thing a child can be given but his preoccupation is to raise money and send it to his poor mother whose old age could not permit her to escape from the C.A.R. He said his father, who escaped with him, died in a gold mine in July and he has no one to count on for food and school needs.
Goumba said he earns $4 after 24 hours of work. Cameroon says there are over 400 mining sites on its eastern border, a majority of them illegal.
Corine Mvondo is a government labor official in Batouri. She said Cameroon will punish people who stop children from going to school.
She said Cameroon is a signatory to the Worst Forms of Child Labor Convention which was adopted by the International Labor Organization on June 17, 1999. She said a 2011 Cameroonian law states that people involved in child labor are liable to prison time of 15 to 20 years and fines of up to $20,000.
Life in the gold mines is dangerous. The government says 27 miners died in May due to landslides.
Cameroon has promised to offer free primary education to children who leave the mines. But some of the children say they lack food and books. The government has not said if it will provide those things if the children return to school.
Source: Voice of America