Sub-Saharan Africa is the worst place to be a child in 2015.
While the global number of child laborers has declined by one-third since 2000, there are still more than 59 million incidences of child labor in this part of Africa alone.
Since 2012, photojournalist Matjaz Krivic has been documenting the men, women, and children working in the gold mines of Bani, Burkina Faso. One of the most dangerous forms of labor a child can engage in, mining is back-breaking work that poses both immediate risks and long-term health problems.
“Kids as young as 8 years are working heavily every day, all day,” Krivic told Business Insider. Located in the northwestern portion of Sub-Saharan Africa, Burkina Faso is nestled right above Ghana, and below Mali.
Krivic’s images show the difficult process of gold mining, as well as the risks these children must take everyday just to survive.
Krivic first arrived in Bani while driving through West Africa in 2012. “I was immediately drawn into [the miners’] lives, their struggle, their devotion, and their generosity,” he said to Business Insider.
In Bani, mining is a family business. “About 15,000 miners work in the area just around Bani,” Krivic said. “A third of them are children.”
Work begins at sunrise, and on some days, goes well past sunset. The children cook, wash, carry water, and crush stones, often working up to 11 hours without stopping.
Women of the village, including teenage girls, spend much of their time digging for gold on the surface. They then carry their findings to be processed and panned.
“It is against the law to employ children under the age of 16 in Burkina Faso, but the children working in mines are not technically employed. No contract, no social security,” Krivic said.
Several gold mines are situated around the area near Bani, and not everyone who works there is a native. “The state gives the people free concessions to dig for gold. So whole families, children, old people, women, and men, are scattered in the mines across the country. Some even come from neighboring countries,” Krivic said.
The mines can be more than 200 feet deep, and the miners are sometimes submerged in ground water as they hammer away.
“Most of the time, boys work in the pits through the night, when the air is cooler and it’s easier to work,” Krivic said.
For safety measures, mining is banned during the rainy season, which lasts from July through September. Shafts are more likely to collapse during this time, which would trap the workers inside. However, as Krivic noted, most “miners cannot afford to obey this ban.”
“Miners find gold quite frequently,” Krivic said. However, paying for supplies such as food, tools, and diesel leaves little money for the workers to take home for themselves.
A local gold dealer in Bani told Krivic, “I know of six groups of miners who have struck rich in the 22 years I have been buying gold. They are not truly rich, but they lead a decent life.”
Praying areas are often set near an entrance to a mine. “[Miners] usually pray for their safety while digging in dangerous pits and for the prosperity of finding gold,” Krivic said. Here, 24-year-old Bandia prays near his pit before descending into the mine to work.
“While grinding the ore, heavy metals such as lead attack [the worker’s] lungs and find their way into the soil and drinking water,” Krivic said.
Although there are no hard statistics to show the number of workers affected by the cyanide, mercury, and lead of the mines, these harmful chemicals have been used for over a century within the Bani mining community.
According to Krivic, only a few of the miners are aware of the deadly side effects of this line of work.
Krivic noted that mining “is a hazardous story of modern slavery, that happens predominantly because of our constant high demand for gold.”
This series, titled “Digging the Future” is Krivic’s way of speaking out against this practice. “Without any real future in front of them, these people hold on with everything they got to the only possibility of escaping their destiny — with a never-ending hope of finding enough gold to get them a decent life,” he said.