Child labor in Tanzania’s artisanal gold mines: Household capability vector optimization under severe constraints

Potter, Cuz (2016). 'Child labor in Tanzania's artisanal gold mines: Household capability vector optimization under severe constraints' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Tokyo 2016.

This paper explores capability vector optimization in a context of capability set constraints through an ethnographic study of child labor in artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) in Tanzania. While governments may have an obligation to maximize the capability sets of their citizens, citizens must make decisions about how to maximize their own capability vectors within the constraints of existing capability sets. Child labor presents a particularly vexing example of such decision making. Child labor, especially in dangerous industries like ASM, is widely condemned. It can be argued on one hand that child labor reduces combined capabilities by denying children the instrumental capabilities fostered   through education. This approach generally assumes that poverty forces children to abandon education and engage in potentially hazardous work. On the other, it can be argued that child labor enhances capabilities by providing vocational  training and income needed to meet immediate basic needs. This paper explores the tension between these two positions through interviews with children, parents, pit owners, and government officials connected to ASM in Mgusu, Tanzania in  early 2012. The study identifies several outcomes relevant to the development of capabilities. First, it demonstrates that most parents and children perceive education as a preferred means of fostering capabilities. Second, it shows that child labor in many cases plays the contradictory role of generating funding to enable education. Third, it identifies a cultural constraint on realizing capabilities. Though poverty is recognized as a fundamental driver of child labor,  particularly in regard to high school fees, the paper highlights a mediating variable: household fragmentation. The new cultural practices introduced and induced by the organization of ASM interact with traditional practices to fragment  households and increase the incidence of child poverty, which then drives the children to work in the mines. The organization of ASM, which introduces wage labor and high risk as well as mobility driven by resource depletion and discovery, fosters a culture of consumption that involves binge spending, prostitution, and alcoholism. These practices combine with traditional practices of polygamy, high fertility, and patrilineal inheritance to separate males from their offspring, fragmenting households. As a result, many female-headed households with irregular income streams have been produced, pushing children into the labor force. It is thus argued that cultural transformation is driving  household fragmentation and that this fragmentation is key constraint on realizing capabilities.

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