Child Labour in African Artisanal Mining Communities: Experiences from Northern Ghana


  • Gavin Hilson

    1. is Reader in Environment and Development, School of Agriculture, Policy and Development, The University of Reading, Earley Gate, PO Box 237, Reading RG6 6AR, UK. He carries out research on the environmental and interrelated social dimensions of artisanal and small-scale mining, mainly in West Africa and the Guianas.
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  • An earlier version of this paper was presented at the international conference, ‘Rethinking Extractive Industry Regulation, Dispossession and Emerging Claims’, Centre for Research on Latin America and the Caribbean, York University, Canada, 5–7 March 2009. The author would like to thank Dr Roy Maconachie, Professor Chris Garforth and a number of anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on earlier drafts. Financial support for this research was provided by the British Academy (Grant SG-42821 –‘Child Labour: A Necessary Evil in West African Artisanal Mining Communities?’).


The issue of child labour in the artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) economy is attracting significant attention worldwide. This article critically examines this ‘problem’ in the context of sub-Saharan Africa, where a lack of formal sector employment opportunities and/or the need to provide financial support to their impoverished families has led tens of thousands of children to take up work in this industry. The article begins by engaging with the main debates on child labour in an attempt to explain why young boys and girls elect to pursue arduous work in ASM camps across the region. The remainder of the article uses the Ghana experience to further articulate the challenges associated with eradicating child labour at ASM camps, drawing upon recent fieldwork undertaken in Talensi-Nabdam District, Upper East Region. Overall, the issue of child labour in African ASM communities has been diagnosed far too superficially, and until donor agencies and host governments fully come to grips with the underlying causes of the poverty responsible for its existence, it will continue to burgeon.