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Effects of Mining on Children

09 February 2016

By Commissioner Lindiwe Mokate, SAHRC Commissioner responsible for Basic Education and Children

The Mining Indaba is regarded as the largest mining investment event, bringing together key stakeholders in the industry. We recognise that mining is an important developmental activity which contributes to home, office, schools and life in general. For these reasons, mining has an important role in fostering the development and realisation of socio-economic rights within South Africa and beyond.

Notwithstanding these contributions, the mining sector if not properly regulated, can contribute to labour violations, exploitation of communities, ill-health of workers and people from surrounding communities, and destruction and/or degradation of the environment. For example, health and the environment can be impacted by acid mine drainage (AMD). AMD has a devastating effect on people, flora and fauna;

Children, because of their vulnerability, need utmost protection. It is therefore crucial that in mining activities the best interests of the child are upheld, and children are put first. Holding this event for the first time at the Mining Indaba is a positive step.

The SAHRC is established in terms of the Constitution of South Africa to oversee the promotion and protection of human rights within the country and has a dedicated portfolio dealing with the rights of the child and as such monitors the observance of children’s rights in the country. The SAHRC has conducted several investigations related to mining operations in South Africa and the extent to which such operations have impacted on children’s rights. Recommendations have been made to government and business.

In relation to mining and its impact on children, Section 28(1)(e) and (f) of the Constitution stipulates that Every child has the right to be protected from exploitative labour practices; and not to be required or permitted to perform work or provide services that are inappropriate for a person of that child’s age, or place at risk the child’s well-being, education, physical or mental health or spiritual, moral or social development.

Over the last 20 years the SAHRC has become aware of the potential negative impacts business practices can have on human rights. Over the past two years, the SAHRC has assigned its thematic focal area to business and human rights. Furthermore, the Commission has particularly looked at the role of the mining sector and its impact on the enjoyment of human rights;
Our experience and research has subsequently shown that children are impacted at every stage of mining activities, either directly or indirectly.

At the pre-mining stage, the SAHRC is concerned about potential implications for children arising from the lack of information, transparency and free, prior and informed consent.
Very often, consultations with the communities during the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process do not consider the potential impacts of a mining project on children as not only a vulnerable group but also as holders of constitutional rights in their own right.
A clear example of this is a case currently being investigated by the Commission in one of the provinces. The complainants allege that a mining company was granted a mining licence after consultation with the community. In order to establish the mine, a school in the community had to be relocated to an alternative site. The preliminary assessment of this complaint by the Commission indicated that potential adverse impacts on the child, both physical and psychological, were overlooked altogether or not adequately considered during community consultation.

During the actual mining stage, a number of cases have been investigated by the SAHRC where children’s rights are similarly impacted by mining activities.
Some of the major issues that have been identified have included reports of (1) sexual exploitation of children; (2) children being unable to attend school; and (3) environmental degradation that directly impacts children.
The impact of environmental degradation on children can be best illustrated by a case that the SAHRC is investigating in Gauteng Province. At the request of an affected community, the SAHRC conducted a site visit in the affected area within Gauteng province. Toxic water in the area has destroyed aquatic life in two lakes within the area. Some boreholes are polluted. The soil is polluted resulting in people not being able to grow vegetables.

At the post-mining stage, some of the challenges that the SAHRC is aware of relate to unrehabilitated mines and the danger these pose to children. For example, security, personal safety of children; injuries and deaths etc.

The dangers of closed mines can be seen in a recent case that the SAHRC investigated. The case involves a mine that was closed more than 10 years ago in one of the provinces. The people living in the area have had problems with their houses - cracking and dangerous sinkholes.The weakening of houses and existence of sinkholes poses a danger to children, some of whom have drowned in sinkholes. Impact on children’s health has also been reported. Some children suffer from skin irritation that is suspected to be related to AMD.

The impact of mining on children’s lives was unearthed in a recent national investigative hearing of the SAHRC on unregulated artisanal underground and surfacing mining (the report is also available on the SAHRC website). This hearing found that this unlicenced industry utilises child labour to carry out mining in unrehabilitated mines in various areas of South Africa.  A further finding of the hearing indicated that violent clashes among different groups of illegal miners as well as between law enforcement agents and the illegal unlicenced miners had either resulted in, or exposed children to the danger of, loss of life.

In 2012, UNICEF together with the UN Global Compact and Save the Children, developed a set of principles to guide businesses in respecting and protecting the rights of children in their spheres of influence, known as the Children’s Rights and Business Principles (the Principles). These Principles represent the internationally agreed upon standards for businesses with regard to children’s rights, and provide some important recommendations for all businesses.

We trust that even though this event is the first event of its kind at the Mining Indaba, we hope it is not the last and that in fact children’s rights will form part of the annual agenda of this important event. Children constitute the future of mining whether as the people at the coalface of mining, as managers, owners and customers. It is therefore important that thought is given to the protection of this future generation. We therefore trust that among others, the Principles will receive wider acceptance and adherence within the mining industry.


Lindiwe Mokate is the SAHRC Commissioner responsible for Children’s Rights and Access to Education. This is an edited version of the speech she delivered at the Roundtable held on the sidelines of the Mining Indaba on Tuesday the 09th Feb 2016 under the theme: Mining the Real Gold: Children As Stakeholders in Sustainable Development.

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