Human Rights Watch released a video today depicting the need for immediate medical treatment of thousands of children in northern Nigeria, suffering from one of the worst lead poisoning epidemics in modern history. Due to artisanal gold mining throughout the Zamfara State, locals are exposed to lead dust when ore is processed in the mines.
Much of the work in Zamfara's informal mining sector is done by children as young as 8—one of the worst violations of child labor under international law, according to Human Rights Watch.
Children are mostly at risk for contamination from their miner relatives returning home covered in lead dust, when ore is manually crushed at their home or in contaminated food and water supplies. Over four hundred children have died thus far, according to Human Rights Watch, yet environmental cleanup efforts have not yet begun in most of the affected villages. High rates of infertility and miscarriages have also been reported from local healthcare workers.
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The government has paired up with some international organizations to issue treatment to some of the children with acute lead poisoning, but thousands are still lacking healthcare. Safer mining techniques and cleaning up affected villages will be more critical in the long term.
“By failing to address this epidemic, the Nigerian government is needlessly sacrificing its children,” Babatunde Olugboji, deputy program director at Human Rights Watch told the Huffington Post. “The federal and state governments need to educate people about the risks of lead, put safer mining programs in place, end child labor in gold mining, and dramatically expand treatment and environmental cleanup programs.”