More and more children in Liberia are leaving school

    13 February, 2013

    This is the Education Report in Special English.

    More and more children in Liberia are leaving school to work in the diamond mines. 15-year-old Mike Coleman dropped out of school several months ago. He left to search for diamonds in western Liberia to help his parents.

    "They were sorry when I left the classroom, but I have no options. I hope to find a diamond soon."

    The Ministry of Lands, Mines and Energy estimates that Liberian diamond mines currently employ at least 1,500 children. Nora Quae is the principal of Morpue Junior High School in western Liberia. She says more than 200 students, half the school, dropped out this year to work in the diamond fields.

    "50 percent of our students have abandoned school. They have abandoned the class. This is an embarrassing situation. The future of Liberia depends on the youth.  The youth must see reason to go to school and prepare themselves for their future."

    Liberia's unemployment rate is near 85 percent. The World Bank estimates that 95 percent of the population lives on less than $2 a day. Work in the diamond mines is difficult and dangerous. But the possibility of earning $50 for each diamond found is too good for many people to turn down.

    Employing anyone under the age of 18 in diamond mines is illegal. Many mine operators, however, are willing to hire children. Their bodies are small enough to fit into the narrow tunnels and tight spaces of the mines.

    Thomas Wleh heads the Liberia Mining Entity in western Liberia. "A worker is a worker," he says, "no matter the age." He says the operators do not force young people to work for them. He thinks the government, through the Ministry of Education, must put in place a measure to keep the students in school.

    "We are here to work and make profit."

    The United Nations Security Council helped ban the mining and exports of so-called "blood diamonds" in Liberia in 2001 at the height of civil war. This ban helped cut the number of children in the mines. But the United Nations ended the ban in 2007, after the election of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. The diamond mines are in demand again, increasing the demand for young workers.

    The Liberian government has threatened to punish mine companies found to be employing school age children. Parliament member Gertrude Lamin says young people must leave the diamond mines and return to Liberia's free education system.

    "Diamond mining is not the future. What will they get from mining?  You get small money today, but tomorrow is no future.  You need, Liberian students, you need to come back and go to school.  You must leave mining because tomorrow you will be old, and you will have nothing and that will not carry you anywhere."

    And that's the VOA Special English Education Report. I'm Jerilyn Watson.