MAC: Mines and Communities

Shattered youth

Published by MAC on 2005-06-07

Shattered youth

This week's World Day Against Child Labour gives pupils the chance to think about their contemporaries who have to work for a living, often in heavy industries, and the role their labour plays in the global economy, says Lyndsey Turner

Tuesday June 7, 2005

The Guardian

Tomorrow morning, British schoolchildren will awake to clock radios and hot showers, superhero cereals and breakfast TV. After a short bus or car journey, they will pass through school gates into bright classrooms and noisy playgrounds.

Somewhere on the other side of the world, however, 1 million children will wake at dawn and walk for miles to begin a long day of hard physical labour. These children, some as young as three, are employed in mines and quarries in India, Africa and South America. They dig for diamonds, gold, precious metals, tin and coal underground and in surface mines, often in unbearable conditions.

This year's World Day Against Child Labour, to be held on June 12, focuses on the plight of young workers in the mining and quarrying industries. According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), around 246 million children, some 16% of the world's youth, are involved in child labour. Industries such as agriculture, retailing and hospitality - not to mention the international sex trade - rely on child workers to keep wages down and profits up. Every child engaged in labour is a child denied a childhood, as well as an education, a fact that may provoke our own pupils into action and empathy.

This year's World Day Against Child Labour aims to draw attention to the young workers whose daily tasks include back-breaking lifting and carrying, crawling through networks of mines and tunnels, exposure to harmful toxins and work with dangerous explosives. Clearly, child labour is a human rights issue, and one that deserves a place within the citizenship class.

The heartbreaking case studies showing the abuse and injury suffered by child miners also provide a valuable insight into the global economy, and a focal point for the study of the movement of goods and commodities around the world. A lesson on child labour is an opportunity to explore the very notion of childhood, and a chance for our students to consider the differences between their own experiences of the world and those of their contemporaries in Africa and Asia.

Digging for survival

Using information gathered from the internet and the ILO's Digging For Survival resource pack (available at, help students to make a mining map of the world. Find out which materials and minerals are mined in different countries and discuss the way in which they are transported around the world for industrial purposes.

Introduce students to some of the basic processes involved in mining and quarrying, both in this country and abroad. Investigate the jobs child workers are given in surface and underground mines. The Digging For Survival workpack is useful here too.

Ask students to read different extracts from newspaper articles on child labour (available at and factsheets on children and mining ( Encourage pupils to join with other members of the class in order to share the information they have gathered. The exercise can be repeated until everybody in the class has shared their knowledge of the issue. Students should then be helped to recall the main facts they have learned and to record these for display in the classroom.

A day in the life

Investigate the life of a child worker by looking at some of the case studies available from the ILO's website ( Having read about the daily lives of child miners, ask students to hot seat (interview) each other in the character of a child worker. Information gathered from this can then form the basis of a short play about the lives of the workers, which could be written or improvised by small groups of students.

Challenge students to compile a list of their own reactions to the child labour stories they have read, and use these to inspire a short piece of creative writing. Students could compose a poem to reflect the sights, sounds and sensations of the mine, or write a story from the perspective of a young worker.

Ask students to list the problems faced by child workers in the mining industry (they might include fetching and carrying, working with explosives, exposure to chemicals, working in small spaces and wading through water). For each of these tasks, students should suggest the potential safety issues and hazards involved, before discussing the risks faced by young workers.

Children's rights

Help students to understand the ways in which child labour is entrenched in the economies of developing countries. Highlight the social, economic and cultural problems that might be encountered by children working in mines and quarries by encouraging students to make a mind map of the causes and effects of child labour. Use these maps as the basis of an action plan to phase out child labour.

Take the opportunity to examine children's rights around the world as part of the citizenship curriculum. A website such as makes an excellent starting point for a consideration of human rights abuses. Point out that a child working in a mine is being denied his right to education and explore the other rights that child workers are losing out on.

As part of the history curriculum, put the issue of child labour in the context of industrial Britain. Examine the use of children in mines, factories and mills throughout the 19th century (a site such as could help here) and research the legislation that ended the use of child workers.

Curriculum links and guidance

This lesson is written for key stage 3 (age 11-14) but can be adapted for other ages Keystage 2 (age 7-11)

Help students to understand how mining works with a cross section diagram or illustration of a quarry mine and an underground mine (see and Discuss and list the different processes involved in extracting materials from the earth. Challenge students to name different materials that come from mines and quarries and help them to understand how these materials are used.

Focus on child labour by asking the class to visit Unicef's website List the industries that use child labour and encourage students to use the internet to research the numbers of children involved in heavy industrial work. Ask the class to present their findings in a bar chart or pie chart, before discussing why some countries allow children to work in mines and quarries.

Find out how the World Day Against Child Labour is being marked around the world. Challenge students to invent a way of making the day special in their own school. Students should be encouraged to take collections and design publicity stunts to bring the issue to the attention of fellow pupils.

Key stage 4 (age 14-16) Help students to understand why child labour has become an integral part of the economies of some countries. Investigate the workings of the labour market and the rights and responsibilities of employers and employees. Challenge the class to find out more about labour laws in the UK, specifically the rules on employing teenagers and the introduction of the minimum wage.

As part of the English curriculum, a class role-play could be based around an attempt to ban child labour. Groups of pupils could be assigned roles (human rights lawyer, young worker, captain of industry, charity commissioner, government spokesperson) and should write notes to help them understand what they will be arguing for and against.

Students can find out more about child labour on, the Guardian's subscription-based schools' resources website. Learnnewsdesk, learnpremium's news site for nine- to 14-years old, explores the subject in detail through extracts from the Guardian and the Observer in this week's news in focus. Key stage 3 students should see also see the history section (Britain 1750-1900).

Learnnewsdesk is available free of charge to London schools via the London Grid for Learning website on

Home | About Us | Companies | Countries | Minerals | Contact Us
© Mines and Communities 2013. Web site by Zippy Info