Aminu Mayanchi is barely 14 years of age. He is already saddled with eeking out a living for himself. “I lost my dad last month when he was travelling from Bagega to Anka. He was also a miner escaping an attack. “Last week, we came here to meet his friends and they allowed us to work. We help with breaking stones and piling them into sacks for grinding. We get paid depending on their income.”
His father, Mayanchi, was killed in February 2020 by bandits in one of their incessant raids across communities in Zamfara state. A mine worker himself and source of livelihood for the family, the elderly Mayanchi was fleeing the indiscriminate attacks of militiamen from Bagega and headed to Anka.
The bandits caught up with the elderly Mayanchi and other local people and killed them. Stories of similar human tragedies in Zamfara state are common. Data from Medecines sans Frontier, (MSF) show that over 4,000 men have been killed through related militia attacks leaving behind a growing corps of indigent widows and hungry children ready to jump on any means of survival. Aminu, his orphaned son, is now among the scores of underage children currently sucked into daily labour at the various mine sites across the state.
A generation of children and youth in Zamfara state and most other parts of the north of Nigeria are under a most active spell of socialisation into brutality and indignity. Rather than being ensconced in a steady curriculum of organised educational learning, the parenting and educational learning windows for most children in Zamfara are regularly breached, replaced with a horror reality that socialises them for non-civil future.
The teenage Mayanchi is barely a week into the harsh drudgery and chores at the mines. His life is significantly altered. Children, as young as five-years-old, have been regularly drafted into the mining labour force as an economy of banditry and illegal mining take their tolls on the social values of communities in Zamfara state.
HumAngle reporter in the state reports that children under 15 actively work in the mines or are drafted to assist in grinding the lead in their homes. Mining in Zamfara state is very artisanal and mostly done in small illegal groups. To make up for the labour deficit, children, mostly orphaned through banditry attacks are pushed into child labour.
In Kadauri, for instance, HumAngle witnessed a drafting process to join the mines labour for children ranging from 12 to 15 years old. According to our reporter, the children wore long faces, depicting signs of helplessness. They looked unkept and malnourished.
The child labour menace directly puts children under more risk of poisoning, especially from lead, which they inhale regularly. A community leader, Mamu Uban Daba, lamented the situation, saying, “You know these children are not strong and they are exposed. That is why they are dying unnecessarily.”
A 2012 report by environmental writer, Elizabeth Grossman, linked child labour to the lead poisoning among children in Zamfara.
It read, “Child labour is common in these mines, and very young children can be exposed to mining’s dust and chemical hazards when they accompany parents to work sites.
“Mercury is typically the primary chemical hazard in artisanal gold mines.”
HumAngle reports that MSF has been actively working towards providing medical support as well as psychological rehabilitation for the affected children.