Child Labor in the Small-Scale Gold Mining Industry in Suriname
Heemskerk, Marieke; Duijves, Celine
This study employs a mixed-methods methodology to capture and analyze quantitative and qualitative data on child labor in the small-scale gold mining sector in Suriname. The study addresses issues including, but not limited to, the worst forms of child labor (WFCL) in the gold mining sector, risk factors associated with and pathways into child labor, types of work performed, living and working conditions, and perceptions of the situation from those involved. Using a combination of network analysis, geomapping of the gold sector, and expert interviews, the researchers identified and conducted interviews with 167 child workers drawn from a nonprobability sample of three mining areas (Brokopondo, Meriam, and Sella Creek), and conducted direct observation of mining operations. Findings of the study demonstrate that all child gold miners are engaged in hazardous aspects of mining. Worksite and living conditions are poor and lack the most basic services, such as electricity, toilets, or clean water. At the same time, a distinction is evident between the activities of full-time workers (9.7 percent of those interviewed) and part-time workers (89.3 percent). Full-time workers typically work in the mining pits, where they use sharp tools and dangerous machinery, while the balance are more often engaged in gold panning, which exposes them to the toxic effects of mercury. Gold mining work by children occurs in isolated locations deep within Suriname’s underdeveloped interior; miners come from the impoverished Maroon population, where many households are large families headed by single mothers. Child miners are mostly boys, who are often drawn into the work through the influence of a matrilineal uncle who has the cultural status of a father. Access to high-quality, native-language education is limited; virtually all the children interviewed had a low level of educational achievement partly because they had missed school for work or because they were too physically and mentally exhausted from work to focus on their studies. However, the immediate need to supplement family income or have money of their own, combined with a lack of alternatives, compels children to work in gold mining.
child labor; small-scale gold mining; Suriname; working condition