Afghanistan vows to "set standards" on child labor in mines

Fri Aug 12, 2011 4:09am EDT
 
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By Michelle Nichols

KABUL (Reuters) - For around $2 a day some Afghan children as young as 10 work long hours in the country's coal mines with no safety gear and, until now, no government mining policy to protect them.

While national law allows Afghan children to work up to 35 hours a week from the age of 14, they are not allowed to do hazardous jobs such as mining. But after 30 years of conflict and with many children the sole family breadwinners, aid and rights groups say the laws are flouted and not enforced.

As Afghanistan tries to attract foreign investors to develop an estimated $3 trillion worth of untapped mineral deposits, Mines Minister Wahidullah Shahrani has been working to expand and clean up the industry and has drafted a policy officially setting the minimum age for coal mine workers at 18.

"We drafted the first-ever social policy guidelines to make sure that when it comes to the labor force, and when it comes to health and safety, and most importantly on the issue of child labor, we will have some type of standards," he told Reuters.

"Previously we did not have any official policy at the Ministry of Mines."

The guidelines are due to be implemented in the next few months and mining inspectors would be employed to ensure the rules are upheld, Shahrani said. But critics have questioned the government's capacity to manage the mining industry.

Since Shahrani became minister at the start of 2010, he has drawn up the ministry's first business plan and signed Afghanistan to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) as a candidate country. He was optimistic that by April 2012 Afghanistan would get full EITI compliant status.

Afghanistan's rich mineral deposits have been trumpeted as the key to future prosperity, but experts say the bounty is many years, even decades, away and point to massive security and infrastructure challenges for potential investors.   Continued...