|© UNICEF Burkina Faso / 2009|
|Aissatou, third from left, smiling with her fellow dressmakers in their shop.|
By Sylvana Nzirorera
GANGAOL, Burkina Faso, 8 June 2009 - Gangaol village is located between the Sahel Region and the Centre-North of Burkina Faso. This is an arid land, bordering the desert, where increasingly marginal land is being used to farm millet and sorghum - the only crops that can grow here. The region has been struck by frequent droughts and locust swarms, which resulted in famine in 1973, 1984 and 2005.
Climatic conditions seem to be getting worse with global warming, deforestation and the advance of the desert. The population struggles daily to get water and food. Many families dream of finding gold, a miracle for a better future. They dig for it, involving everyone in the family who can help, including children.
“My mother worked so many years, but never found a sizable stone,” recalled Aissatou, a young girl who started working when she was only four-years-old, selling water to the mine workers, even while watching her young sister and brother. She earned about 35 cents per day.
“We were already three children, and my mother wasn’t earning enough for food and clothing, and my father wasn’t living with us,” said Aissatou.
At eight-years-old, Aissatou started to work in the mine with her mother. Together, they earned up to six dollars a day – enough to put food on the table for a family that had grown to eight.
Her mother could also afford some medicines for the children, who were often sick.
“My mother lost two of my brothers. They were coughing and she couldn’t get them treated,” said Aissatou.
Aissatou’s plight is not unusual. Some 47 per cent of children between age five and 14 are victims of child labour in Burkina Faso. About 10,000 are working in gold mines and quarries. Many are pushed into hazardous work when they are as young as age five. Such work often leads to injuries, and many of the children are affected by chronic illnesses and lack access to health services.
“Our responsibilities as UNICEF is to make sure families, communities, local leaders as well as decision makers at the highest level, donors and partners are aware that these children have been robbed of their rights,” said Representative in Burkina Faso Herve Peries. “They must be protected against exploitation and harm. The place for these children is in school.”
Help for children and mothers
Aissatou, now 18, is among some 500 children who have benefited from a UNICEF-supported programme implemented by a local organization, Action for the Promotion of Childs' Rights in Burkina Faso (APRODEB). Since 2005, the organization has worked to sensitize children and parents to the dangers presented by working in the mines.
Mothers are also provided with funds to start small-scale income generating activities. More than 160 mothers in the programme are taught money management skills and are given basic literacy classes. They are also provided with child care.
Young people receive vocational training in carpentry, auto mechanics and construction. Girls are trained mostly in dress making, baby sitting, braiding and vegetable farming in small plots.
Aissatou was trained in tailoring, and now she earns about five dollars a day. She is married to a young man whom she met in the mines and who has been retrained as a mason. They are able to live more comfortably than many of their neighbours, in a house that Aissatou’s husband built himself.
Aissatou’s dream is to have five children and send them all to school to become teachers or nurses.
“I will never allow them to work in the gold mines,” she said. “It is very dangerous”.