Chrome's shine tarnished by child labour in Albania

An estimated 150 million children worldwide are engaged in child labour. One out of every four of these children between the ages of 5 and 14 are doing work that is considered detrimental to their health and/or their development. The children in this story are among this story are in this category. 

This is the story chrome, before its polished gleam catches our eyes and how the hands of children are pulling it from muck and mountains.

Cradled in a green valley in eastern Albania about four hours from the capital city, Bulqiza exists on hollowed ground. The sound of families striking rocks echo up and down the valley. Underneath the mountain’s surface, mines burrow 2,500 meters under the footings of the community. Above ground, the guts of the mountain — rock ripped out from mining — are piled. Mining for chrome is the main industry and income for people in this area. 

A decade ago, stricter government regulations stopped companies from officially hiring children as minors. These efforts have led to a black-market supply chain of kids scrambling over treacherous ore dregs outside the mines to find scraps to sell. From their buckets, they sell their finds to "chrome bosses".  On a good day, children might be able to find 80-100 kg of rocks to sell. For their hard and hazardous work, they will receive about $8 USD.

The children scamper with bruised and cut legs up and down the steep grades around Bulqiza, hoping for rain, because it exposes the best stones.

Keli is a 13-year-old chromite scavenger. His mother, the family breadwinner, was crushed by a tractor as she collected ore. His father is gone so siblings raise him. The youngster spends his days working on the rubble piles, then toils even when his eyes are closed. "I dream of looking down and finding the best (chromite)," he explains.

One of his older brothers, 21-year-old Selimi, on the other hand has nightmares. His dreams include him dying in the industry, like his mother. Deaths inside Albanian mines are standard practice -- by one estimate, as many as two a month. There are no records of how many children are hurt digging outside.

Margarita, a 27-year-old widow, lost her husband in a mine collapse last year. He worked at an unlicensed operation so Margarita and her two children haven't received any compensation from the company for his death.

She worries about her children. Not only is it difficult to provide for them, she fears the mountain, which has already taken her husband, will also take away her children, especially if her 10-year-old son continues to scavenge for chrome on the side of the mountain. 

The Facts:

  • An estimated 150 million children worldwide are engaged in child labour.

  • In the least developed countries, nearly one in four children (ages 5 to 14) are engaged in labour that is considered detrimental to their health and development.

  • Boys continue to be more exposed to employment than girls (18.1 per cent against 15.2 per cent).

Children who are forced to work are often denied many of the rights due to them as children, such as the right to study.  

It takes a world to end violence against children. It takes a world to end child labour.

Join us as we work to end violence against children.