A Midlands businessman has just returned from a visit to Africa aimed at highlighting the plight of child labourers.
North Staffordshire mining and development expert Kevin D'Souza was shocked to see children as young as six working in extremely hazardous conditions in gold and other mineral mines.
Principal consulting mining engineer with consultants Wardell Armstrong, which has Midlands office at Newcastle Under Lyme and West Bromwich, he had travelled to the West African states of Niger and Burkina Faso after being commissioned by the Geneva-based International Labour Office, a United Nations agency, to report on the extent of child labour in the countries' so-called " informal" mines.
In a bid to investigate and devise a pragmatic plan of action he held talks with government ministers, nongovernmental organisations and other interested parties from both countries.
And he travelled through some of the most remote regions of both countries to more fully understand the needs and desires of the impoverished and destitute communities who have been forced to seek work in the harsh artisanal mining sector - small scale local mining.
"Child labour is depressingly widespread in the informal artisanal mining sector and with at least 300,000 children being involved in child labour in the two countries," said Mr D'Souza.
"In some cases, children as young as six and seven are working underground in the mines, although the majority are aged ten and over.
"These are desperately poor countries - the second and third poorest in the world - and have suffered from decades of intermittent droughts and food shortages.
"Parents don't want their children to work in mines, but because they are struggling to survive from day to day they simply do not have any choice. It breaks their hearts to see their children struggle each day."
His detailed report will now be used in preparation for a proposed International Programme for Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC) programme which aims to target international aid to help withdraw and rehabilitate such children and also improve their basic living conditions.
"This is not just about a quick fix solution and giving aid," said Mr D'Souza. "To sustainably reduce the number of children working in the mines we need to take a holistic and long term approach.
"We are looking at a range of measures including increasing mining productivity, improving occupational safety, providing mobile school facilities, raising skill levels through vocational training and encouraging other forms of employment that would be sustainable in the region.
" Providing better and appropriate health and sanitation facilities is another big challenge. You can find sites where up to 30,000 people are working in hazardous conditions and where diseases like malaria, dysentery, TB and diarrhoea are rampant, with virtually no medical facilities."
Mr D'Souza, an authority on mining in Africa, has carried out a number of internationally-funded missions in over 25 African countries to assess how conditions can be improved for the continent's poorest and most vulnerable mine workers and their communities.
Dr Chris Broadbent, who coordinates the international work of the Wardell Armstrong group, said the World Bank was currently injecting considerable sums into trying to tackle the problem.