Re-thinking the child labor “problem” in rural sub-Saharan Africa: the case of Sierra Leone’s “half shovels”

Roy Maconachie, Gavin Hilson

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This article contributes to evolving debates on Sierra Leone’s post-war “crisis of youth” by providing an extended analysis of the role that young boys and girls assume in negotiating household poverty and enhancing their livelihood opportunities in small-scale mining communities. Child miners – or “half shovels” as they are locally known – are both directly and indirectly involved in small-scale gold extraction in Kono District, Sierra Leone’s main diamond-producing area. But the implications of their involvement are often far more nuanced and complex than international children’s rights advocates understand them to be. Drawing upon recent fieldwork carried out in and around the Kono mining village of Bandafayie, the article argues that children’s participation in the rural economy not only generates much-needed household income, but in many cases is the only way in which they can earn the monies needed to attend school. A blind and uncritical acceptance of international codes and agreements on child labor could have an adverse impact on children and, by extension, poor communities in rural Sierra Leone. Western notions of “progress” and development, as encapsulated in the post-conflict reconstruction programing of international NGOs and donor organizations, often do not match up with the complex realities or competing visions of local people.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)136-147
Number of pages12
JournalWorld Development
Early online date28 Oct 2015
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2016


  • "crisis of youth"
  • child labor
  • artisanal and small-scale mining
  • livelihoods
  • poverty
  • Sierra Leone


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