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Criticisms are mounting over Tanzania’s compliance with obligations to prevent and monitor child labor in the mining sector, a country that is the fourth largest gold producer. Working conditions and the ages of children employed in mining sites has raised concerns that the Tanzanian government is not adhering to national and international child labor regulations.

According to a report by the Tanzania Ministry of Energy and Minerals, there are more than 800,000 small-scale gold miners in the country, including an estimated 2,279 child miners. Monitoring child labor in small-scale mining sites is difficult because the operations are transient and often forego bureaucratic channels to obtain mining licenses.

Tanzanian mines frequently employ the use of mercury to extract gold ore, as it is cheaper, easier, and more portable than alternatives. Direct exposure to mercury causes well-documented neurological problems, particularly affecting the physical and mental development of children. Acute or chronic levels of mercury exposure affects the central nervous system cardiovascular system, reproductive and gastrointestinal tracts and kidneys, oral cavity, lungs, eyes and skin. From the age of five, children are subjected to physically demanding activities such as digging and drilling in deep, unstable pits; working underground for up to twenty-four hours; and transporting and crushing heavy bags of gold ore. Miners are often killed or injured from pit collapses.

Ostensibly, Tanzania has sufficient national legal basis to monitor, prevent, and sanction child labor within its borders. Several laws prohibit employment of children in hazardous formal and informal work settings, including the 2004 Employment and Labor Relations Act No.6, 2009 National Action Plan for the Elimination of Child Labor, and the Law of the Child Act. Tanzania’s Law of the Child Act and Labor Institutions Act authorizes labor officers to inspect any “premises” including unlicensed mines and informal businesses, and issue non-compliance orders if he or she finds violation of any child labor law. If there have been no subsequent remedial measures, employers can be subject to fines, imprisonment, or both. Such enforcement procedures have aided in the withdrawal of 29,000 child laborers from 2001 to 2010.

At a greater scope, Tanzania has obligations under its ratified international and regional treaties including the Convention on the Rights of the Child, International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention No. 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labor, and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child. State parties should protect every child from economic exploitation by work hazardous to the health, and moral and physical development of the child.

Despite a number of programs, Human Rights Watch reports minimal staffing and budget in small-scale mining site inspections as well as a general lack of knowledge of child labor law for officers and inspectors. According to the Ministry of Labor Principal Labor Officer, Employment and Youth Development the country currently has only 81 labor inspectors. A January 2013 report to the U.S. Department of Labor revealed that Tanzania’s Ministry of Labor and Employment had initiated only three criminal cases against alleged violators of child labor. According to the Ministry’s 2012 Annual Labor Administration and Inspection Report, only two compliance orders have been issued to mining sites—orders that do not specifically address child labor.

Although the international community has acknowledged Tanzania’s effort to enact strong laws against child labor in mining, the state’s capacity or willingness to enforce is insufficient. Its 2009 National Action Plan has been underfunded and unimplemented. Ministry of Labor and Employment, the main instrument working against child labor, has taken limited action to counter child labor. Labor inspections and remedial measures specifically addressing child labor are rare. The inspectors do not assess the ages of the children they pull out of mining sites and do not provide subsequent support, and the use of mercury—despite its prohibition—is not monitored.

Under the authority of the conventions, international bodies’ action against Tanzania are limited to pressure and recommendations for remedial measures. Therefore, Tanzania has discretion to uphold its international obligations by directing its current legislative and administrative measures into practice. These preexisting policy mechanisms can be utilized to prohibit and prevent small-scale mining sites from employing children. Due to minimal staffing and limited operating capaicty in labor inspections targeting child labor, Tanzania is unable to protect children exposed to the hazardous conditions of mining sites. To be effective, feasible monitoring and enforcement of national and international labor and children’s rights laws  remain a priority to combat child labor in the country’s small-scale mining sites.