At an open-pit granite quarry in Burkina Faso’s capital, workers’ children play in the rubble while others toil alongside their parents, as because of the outbreak of the pandemic, schools were closed.
Most of the site’s 1,000 workers are adults, but 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 the governmental authorities ordered the schools’ closure in March to help to control the spread of COVID-19.
“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 admitted.
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 labour 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 explained 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 and make sure she doesn’t injure herself with rocks,” Zoundi claimed.
For children aged between 3 to 6, workers can leave them at the quarry 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 only 12 years old.