Was your gold mined by a child?

Some operations in Africa, Asia and South America employ kids for as little as $2 a day. Yet policing the exploitation is difficult in the porous global metals market.

By Jonathan Berr Apr 29, 2013 3:01PM

Child standing at the top of a gold pit in the deserts of Burkina Faso on July 5, 2012 (c) APA- PictureDesk GmbH/Rex FeaturesThe next time you think about buying gold as an investment or a gift, consider this frightening statistic: As many as 1 million children ages 5 to 17 work in Africa's small gold mines, earning as little as $2 a day.
The nauseating information comes from a heart-wrenching story in Sunday's Philadelphia Inquirer. It describes a scene in Burkina Faso, one of the world's poorest countries, where 30 children do this very dirty and dangerous job. It's also a problem in countries such as Ghana, Mali and Niger, among others.

"They smash boulders into pebbles and pebbles into grit with primitive hammers and sticks," the paper says. "They haul buckets of well water up the hillside and, pouring this water into shallow pans filled with rock and dirt, they swirl the muddy mix, looking in the silt for tiny flecks of gold."

Burkina Faso's mines are so rife with child labor that the U.S. government forbids its agencies from buying gold produced there. That prohibition, however, doesn't apply to private dealers, and given the porous nature of the international market, figuring out the source of a particular bit of gold can be difficult.


While it's unlikely that gold from Burkina Faso winds up in jewelry sold in the U.S., industry group the Artisanal Gold Council told the Inquirer, it's also "not out of the question."


The United Nation's International Labour Organization notes that gold mines in Asia and South America also use child labor in similarly dismaying circumstances.

"Children work both above and under ground," it says. "In the tunnels and mineshafts they risk death from explosions, rock falls and tunnel collapse. They breathe air filled with dust and sometimes toxic gases."

For its part, the World Gold Council has developed the "Conflict Free Gold Standard" to promote responsible mining practices, intended to ensure that the metal is mined without supporting unlawful armed conflicts or in violation of human rights abuses like exploitive child labor. The Council is made up of 23 companies responsible for about 60% of corporate gold production around the world.

Barrick Gold (ABX), the world's largest gold miner, was up 60 cents to $19.15 in afternoon trading. Rival Goldcorp (GG) was down 4 cents to $28.80. Both companies are based in Canada and are members of the World Gold Council.

Sadly, as the recent tragedy in Bangladesh showed, there are many workers in poor countries who risk their lives each day to earn meager pay.


--Jonathan Berr does not own shares of the listed stocks. Follow him on Twitter at @jdberr.

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Apr 29, 2013 4:26PM
If you people stopped buying every little thing that underage children created or mined overseas, perhaps more of them would starve or be put to death because there would be less people willing to feed them, provide clothing, and shelter.  You have to remember that the world is not the same in undeveloped countries as it it in developed countries and you can't change things overnight by simply refusing to purchase products that are made by exploited children.  You can refuse to participate in the sex trade, for instance, but by refusing to purchase rice that is farmed by children, you may be condemning a large population to starve.  There are lots of countries where the idea of a child and childhood is very different from what we believe it to be, countries where the older children work in agriculture to support their siblings.  For them to eat, it's factory work or agriculture, and factory work means leaving home and facing much worse dangers.  Do not try to force your idea of what a child is onto children from other countries unless you have been there.  Reading one article is not a true description of a culture or a real problem.  I don't care whether this article is about children tending cattle, mining gold, weaving cloth, or farming rice; don't read one pity article and think that by withholding your money that you might be helping.  If you want to help a third world country, try contributing to a legitimate charity that helps real exploited children, don't take a slanted view from MSN money about what the cultures in China or Africa are doing to provide their children with food.  It doesn't paint the full picture.
Apr 29, 2013 4:49PM
we used to work hard here as children picking cotton till  our little fingers bled but welfare says you cant do that so now our kids sit on there lazy butts and whine. havent seen a teen mowing grass in years
Apr 29, 2013 3:51PM
goddammit. get over yourselves you arz3 holes! stop focusing on third world countries and stop being sheep!
Apr 29, 2013 4:59PM

Dawn 737 you have the I.Q of a frigging rock

Apr 29, 2013 3:18PM
Through the whole run up to $4 gasoline I have yet to pay more than $2.28 per gallon and right now in Oklahoma I'm paying $0.90  (that price is correct) per gallon for my fuel.  You were told 10 years ago how to beat the high price of gasoline and you and your state legislators and congress did little to make the move.  So keep paying $4 per gallon and I'll keep paying 90 cents per gallon and we'll both be happy.   BTW my car puts out less emissions than a hybrid and get's the same MPG.  Electric cars are a myth, they are dirtier than gasoline because of the energy loss in transmission to your electrical plug in.   Long live natural gas, the renewable fuel source with lots of power. 

Apr 29, 2013 11:25PM
well kids need to learn how to make money and when there is no other employment its better then staving to death. maybe there parents should not have kids they cant feed.
May 1, 2013 12:38PM
I love how most people who post on here have no picture or a picture of something other than them self and screen names of their alternative identity. The internet is real and so is the information on it sometimes it's bias sometimes it untrue but it is a communication tool people who hide their identity and name really aren't. Public posting is not hide and seek if you want your opinion to be taken seriously then be a real person. When a person hides behind a name like blahblahwhatever they make up I get the feeling that it's a child trying to be an adult.
Apr 30, 2013 12:17AM

StandsToReason....You said it and also explained it very well...An eye opener for some I hope??

Even brought up things I hadn't given a second thought to lately...Thanks,Tog.


I've been to some of the places you describe, maybe even seen worst;..?

Most was courtesy of the U.S. Military and I would take side trips on the local economy..

Always curious about other Cultures..

Yes many are far different then ours..

But we still have plenty of our own failings here, when it comes to some citizens and our children.

Apr 29, 2013 4:18PM
I think most of the gold being purchased right now is by Republicans. The article might be more persuasive if it said the gold was being mined by illegal aliens.
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