Backbreaking quarry work only choice for Burkinabe teenager

OUAGADOUGOU (Reuters) – At an open-pit granite quarry in Burkina Faso’s capital, workers’ children play in the rubble while others toil alongside their parents after the coronavirus pandemic closed schools.

Neimatou Ouedraogo, 9, carries a bucket of water in Pissy informal granite quarry, since schools closed amid the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso June 10, 2020. Picture taken June 10, 2020. REUTERS / Anne Mimault

Most of the site’s 1,000 workers are adults, but a Reuters witness saw a dozen children of different ages chipping lumps of granite into smaller pieces or balancing rocks on their heads as they walked painstakingly out of the steep pit.

“It’s not a game. If you work here, you hurt all over at night,” said 18-year-old school pupil Elysee Yanogo, who was splitting granite slabs with a mallet.

He started working at the quarry with his mother after authorities ordered schools closed in March to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.

“We don’t have information about when they are going to reopen, that’s why I follow my mother to the quarry to help her,” he said.

Yanogo can legally work at the site as he is over 16. But despite the law, some 42% of Burkinabe children between the ages of 5 and 14 engage in some form of labor including back-breaking work in quarries, gold mines and cotton fields, according to a 2018 report by the U.S. Bureau of International Labor Affairs.

With schools closed, Aminata Zoundi said she had no option but to bring her 10-year-old daughter, Zenabo, to the quarry, where the girl sat beside her as Zoundi pounded stones into pebbles.

“When she’s here with me I have to find her food, make sure she doesn’t injure herself with rocks,” Zoundi said.

For children aged 3 to 6, workers can leave them at the quarry’s nursery, where they play in safer surroundings.

“It’s easier for them to work without their children,” said teacher Abdoul Kabre, who once worked in the quarry himself. He started when he was 12 years old.

Reporting by Vincent Bado; Writing by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Leslie Adler

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