In December, TheCable published an undercover investigation exposing how children are used as cheap labour in stone crushing sites and lead mines in Ebonyi.
The children, hired by artisanal miners, work during school hours.
By virtue of the hazardous substances they are exposed to, the children become susceptible to tuberculosis, kidney disease, and lung cancer.
Six months after the report and despite assurances given by authorities in Ebonyi, TheCable understands that “nothing has changed”.
According to Kelechi Okezie, founder of Neighbourhood Environment Watch Foundation, “the problems are still there”.
Okezie said the children working in the mines are “in danger”.
He said: “Now that the rains have come, most of the sites are flooded and it causes more danger. This is the period where you have a lot of children and women getting drowned.
“We have cases of children who die as a result of being exposed to lead, getting drowned at the mines, and other occupational hazards.”
During the course of its investigation, TheCable had visited John Eke, the state commissioner for education, who said measures will be taken to get the children out of the mines, and back to school.
However, Okezie says “to the best of my knowledge, nothing has been done”.
He added: “It’s one thing to say something, it’s another thing to do it. And for them to embark on that, they have to put things in place. It’s not about going to chase them.”
Okezie said since TheCable’s report was published, his Neighbourhood Environment Watch (NEW) foundation has increased its sensitisation campaign in the areas where child labour is prevalent.
He said NEW has been “going to homes” and “giving them psychosocial and economic support and take them away from the mines”.
He, however, said funding has been a major impediment to achieving its objectives.
Okezie identified poverty as the primary factor behind the continued child labour in Ebonyi mines, saying the situation is “driven by poverty and the desire to get that living”.
“The only thing that can keep the children away from the mines is to come up with something that can take care of their welfare, take care of their schooling, take care of where they are staying. Most of the children are orphans,” he said.
“Except where there is a holistic programme that will help them remain in school and provide meals for the family, they will continue to stay there,” — putting them at greater risk of chronic diseases.