Children in Moroto district are resorting to gold mining instead of going to school arguing that it is a better deal for them. An estimated 5,000 children are working in gold mines in Rupa Sub County in Moroto district either in actual extraction or in ancillary services such as selling food and collecting water among others.
At the Rupa gold mining site about 10 kilometers away from Moroto town towards the Kenya border, 15-year-old Moses Aleper scours the water for glistering flakes, a job he says beats going to school on an empty stomach.
Aleper says his parents tell him what he is doing is right because he can buy his own clothes. He says there is no point of being in school because there are few formal job opportunities in Uganda now days.
Aleper says he gets between 7, 000 to 10, 000 shillings a day for his labour.
An estimated 5,000 children are working in gold mines in Rupa Sub County in Moroto district either in actual extraction or in ancillary services such as selling food and collecting water among others, and the number is said to increase significantly on weekends and during school holidays.
14-year-old Philips Lokulu, who dropped out in primary six at Rainbow Primary School, argues that gold mining for now is better.
Lokulu, who says he is a total orphan, notes that he wants to work hard and get enough money to return to school next year.
//Cue in: “….was in rainbow primary school…”
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Some of the children in schools near the gold mining site are said to be abandoning classes for the mining, arguing that they want to get money to support their parents in buying scholastic materials.
13-year-old Paul Luka, a primary three pupil of Karamoja Development Agency primary school confesses that in most cases he ends up missing school for gold-mining which he says is a lucrative business.
He says because of gold mining he is able to support his parents efforts in educating him.
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Robert Jaka, the Rupa Sub county LC 3 chairperson says school attendance in the affected areas is about 35 percent of the total school days, meaning that in one week a child working at the gold mine will attend school for just two days.
Jaka says they know the dangers of involving children in gold mining, both in terms of losing school days and damaging their health, but that they rely on the goodwill of people to report the cases but this does not happen often because parents encourage their children to seek employment at the mines.
Jaka says his efforts to persuade parents to keep children in school have been in vain.
Joseph Noruku, an elder who is said to be among the people behind the establishment of the mining site in Rupa in 1980, decries the exploitation by those who buy the minerals from these children.
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Dusty conditions in the mines, where protective masks are not used, may also contribute to respiratory tract infections.
Children under 18 constitute 30-50 percent of the total workforce in small-scale gold mines across Africa, according to the UN International Labour Organization.