Cross River: Teenage boys desert schools, crave for Gemstones - TrendyNewsReporters
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Cross River: Teenage boys desert schools, crave for Gemstones

Many children whose ages range from 10 to 15 in Akpet and surrounding communities of Biase Local Government Area of Cross River State are now out of school.

The stones are being picked up from the fringes of the communities.

The children spend entire school hours scavenging for the precious resources.

You will see them often in tatters, torn rubber slippers with dirty feet as if dipped in cement or dusty sands.

They hold any object they can use to dig up the earth.

These objects could be broken spades, long irons, machetes, age-old basins, or dirty sack bags hung across their tiny necks. The sparse hairs on their small heads are filled with white sands as a result of the digging efforts from the mines.

Seeing these fragile teens return from the day’s labour your heart skips a little, supposing that these were your own biological kids or close relatives.

They look burdened, haggard and tired from the day’s efforts where they dug up good quantities of the precious stones which God has generously buried underneath their earth.

What looks like shirts without buttons are flying over their skinny, scrumpy backs. But trust kids, they are chatting away, not bothered at all what effects the hard labour would impact them or what their not going to school could do to them in future. As they saunter home, perhaps they are calculating how much their efforts for the day would amount to.

Results from findings confirmed that in a day, each child can make up to N3000 or N5000, depending on his ability or the quantities excavated.

The officials of the mining firms would motivate the children to put in their very best to make money by raking in more gemstones so that they can earn more money for their parents.

And so, the children would put in all efforts to see that they amass good measures of the gemstones each day for good sums of money at the end of the day or week when the mining supervisors would pay.

Further findings showed that the mining firms are making staggering profits.

By the way, gemstones are precious natural minerals found in over 200 different and colourful types and shapes. The five most popular ones are Diamond, Emerald, Sapphire, Ruby and Amethyst.

According to the Mineral Tracing committee chairman of Akpet Nation, Elder Emmanuel Ehom, the most sought-after one by the miners in the State is the one called Tourmaline because of its beauty and durability. When cut, it is used for jewelleries and other adornments.

Let us meet some of these children who are popularly called the Gemstones Boys of Akpet

They are so-called because they devote their entire attention to scavenging and digging up the precious stones.

Peter Ehom is 13. His father, who had another wife besides Peter’s mum, died four years ago. According to him, he stopped school at primary three in the local school.

He is not the last child. Payment of school fees was difficult for his mother whom the loads of fending for him and his other siblings were telling on her ageing health.

“I had to join my agemates who were already working at the mining sites and making good money.

“They took me to the mine master who encouraged me to help my mother by joining my mates to make money.

“He said he would pay me up to N3,000 or N5000 depending on the quantities of gemstones I would be able to gather per day.

“Some of the older children can make up to N10,000 per day,” he said.

And what does he do with this amount of money per day? “I’ll hand it over to my mother”, he answered.

Doesn’t the money close his eyes and brain towards going to school?

Peter said, “I will still return to school. But I need to make money and support my mother and siblings.”

Another is Tim Egwu who looks even younger. Asked how much he makes daily, he said that a day before they gave him N3000.

“They do give me N1000 or N2000 in a day. I helped to gather the gemstones. That’s why they pay me,” he said.

A petty trader near the Akpet roundabout close to the clan head palace, Madam Dorathy Monday confirmed that a good number of children in the area prefer to join the search for gemstones in preference to going to school.

“The miners pay as much as N5000 or even more to these little children in a day. I know a good number of the children who go to the mines daily. It is the money that attracts them into the backbreaking labour,” she lamented.

She expressed concerns for their safety and health given that several times there have been reports about mine collapse with a number of deaths.

“The job is too risky for these little children. Those that engage them don’t bother about their health or safety”, she said.

An elderly woman, simply identified as Madam Bassey, in an interview said she has not allowed her children and grandchildren to join the gemstones rush.

“I prefer them to concentrate on their school activities. I don’t want them to be involved in such dangerous activities.”

She hesitated to speak on the activities of the miners, especially the way they treat the children working for them.

Leaders and stakeholders of the Akpet Nation have incessantly raised the alarm over the influx of strange and armed men who intimidate them when they challenge them for grabbing their lands, engaging in illegal mining and perpetuating child labour.

HRH Atte Obhort Sunday Evong said, “Because of their illegal, criminal and disturbing influx of strange men with sophisticated weapons to grab our lands, we have withdrawn the licence we gave to some of the mining firms. Many of them are engaged in child labour.

“Some of the kidnappings and armed robbery attacks in our communities are traceable to them.”

He claimed that the miners have made humongous financial gains from the community, and have not cared to plough back to them except bribing a few landowners and individuals to back them.

Evong commended Governor Ben Ayade for banning all mining activities in the State even though there has been no political will to execute it.

He said the ban will ensure that the State gets rid of illegal miners who exploit and cart away their natural resources without proper engagement with local communities and the State government.

“We, the good people of Akpet Nation, sincerely thank the State governor for taking the bull by the horn.

“We are very happy that the State government will get us out of this quagmire being orchestrated by some very mischievous elements around our community,” he noted.

Evong said miners should no longer ill-treat mining host communities as if they do not matter, or take them for fools.

“The situation where they exploit our resources and leave us bare, we are not going to accept such deprivations any longer,” he warned.

Speaking about the exploitation of children and the community’s resources, Fidelis Achu of Olayi Mines Energy Ltd said the government lacks the willpower to stop mining or arrest those that unduly exploit children and the host communities.

“No matter what your efforts on this are, I assure you that the government’s lack of will power to drive governance will thwart all your efforts. If you want to see for yourself. Just take a private drive to Biase LGA and see for yourself.

“Activities of illegal miners are actually going on with a collaboration from the host community and external miners of huge financial and government connection,” he added.

Castro Ezama, special adviser to Governor Ben Ayade on special education, expressed sadness over the Gemstones Boys.

He said, “This is really sad to say the least. The Cross River State Government frowns at this. The government is poised to take out of school children back to school.

“I am making efforts to visit the aforementioned communities to sit with every stakeholder to get our goals achieved.”

However, child rights campaigners have condemned the mining firms that have violated the Child Labour Acts.

President of Mother Glory Ntuk Foundation, Eminence Glory Mike Ntuk said, “children being allowed to veer completely into money making is as bad as subverting their future.

“When such mouth-watering menial jobs will no longer be available, the spate of kidnapping will increase, we are afraid. The future is bleak. Though secular education is not everything, skill is an added advantage.

“So these children should be helped to understand the value of education in a competitively technological future that we’re approaching.

“I weep for the not-too-far future which does not really have much for such children. They are not only in Akpet, but in many other areas and States of Nigeria.

“The problem requires serious attention from parents, guardians, all tiers of government, entrepreneurs, all stakeholders in our society.”

Principal partner at Basic Rights Counsel, Barrister James Ibor enlightened that, “The mining and industrial operations using children in the manner we have seen is not only criminal but a violation of the Children’s fundamental rights as guaranteed by the Labour Act and the 1999 Constitution (as amended).”


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