CAIRO, 9 April (IRIN) - When Ahmed left school at age 11 to work in the rock quarries near his village, he was happy to earn a little money to help support his family.
"But as soon as I went to work, I found it very hard," Ahmed, who is now 14 and still working the quarries, recently told a local NGO. "We've seen lots of accidents â€“ terrible accidents â€“ because the blades on the [rock-cutting] machines spin so fast. They have injured lots of people."
Ahmed is one of the 2,000 to 3,000 children under the age of 18 being illegally employed in more than 500 rock quarries in and around the central Egyptian town of Minya, located some 250km south of Cairo. Because of the severity of the work and dangerous nature of the rock-cutting machines used in the quarries, the children work in risky environments where the slightest slip-up can lead to disabling injuries, or even death.
Egypt is set to become a leading exporter of marble and the Ministry of Trade and Industry via its EU-funded implementation agency Industrial Modernization Centre is very keen on promoting the sector that has been developing quite informally. This can be visited until today in the informal area dubbed Shaq Tabaan near Maadi, where 60% of Egyptâ€™s marble processing takes place. Some 50,000 people are working in the area, and during several visits I have not come across child labour there but in the quarries around Minya the situation could very well be completely different.
The Ministry wants to double marble exports to reach $500millions within 5 years. Until now, the main issue for the Ministry and the industry has been to increase the share of finished products exported, as opposed to selling raw blocks to the next best Chinese trader at much lower prices per ton.
Now it seems the industry has another issue to take care of.