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The footage above was captured by a teenager in Afghanistan. The Wall Street Journal:

Children as young as 10 toil in illegal mines, often for 12 hours a day, activists say. Afghan officials agree the problem is stubborn despite recent efforts. The boys represent a thorny obstacle to the nation’s push to transform its antiquated mining industry into a modern economic engine. …

“I saw some children working there loading and unloading donkeys,” said Khalilulla … “All the people working there are extremely poor and don’t have any other job to feed their families except working in the mines.”

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By Afghan government estimates, as many as a third of the nation’s children—more than 4 million—take part in some sort of work, from picking fruit to mining coal. U.N. officials estimate about 18% of Afghan children work—1.4 million between the ages of 6 and 15.

The United States banned child labor in 1938. Not as long ago as one might assume, but still two generations. Child labor is illegal in Afghanistan — but so was the mine in the footage.

A 2010 report by the Bamiyan provincial Human Rights Commission, an independent group, showed that 212 children between ages 12 and 18 were working in two unlicensed mines, including the one in the video, said Abdul Ahad Farzaam, the commission’s director. “Our investigation indicates those children were working there even during the night,” he said. “The environment isn’t suitable for children at all.”

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It is not. It is also not terribly suitable for American adults, as a recent report from NPR detailed. Black lung disease, once on the brink of eradication, is back. Why? Not because we don’t have laws. Because they aren’t strong enough.

A post at Media Matters connected the dots between lax mine regulations, unsafe working conditions, Republican obstructionism, and media silence on the subject. It’s a really great exploration of how the coal industry and its advocates obscure the spike in black lung.

Perhaps what’s needed is more citizen journalism as from that Afghan teenager. Or from Charles Scott Howard, whose videotaped exposés against Arch Coal cost him his job, until a court reinstated him.

Sunshine, in Justice Brandeis’ words, is a terrific disinfectant. Underground, you sometimes have to use the light of a videocamera.

Photo by Rob Wassell.

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