By Lansana Fofana
Child labour problems remain unsolved in post-war Sierra Leone, where thousands of youngsters continue to work in mines.
Children as young as seven work at the mines
During Sierra Leone's 10 year civil war, children were used as combatants and labourers in the diamond mines of Koidu in the north-eastern district of Kono.
With the war over, government's efforts to get them out of the mines and back into schools are proving to be painfully slow.
No-one seems to know the exact number of children working at the diamond mines in Koidu, because with every passing day, more youngsters drift into these mines.
Undoubtedly, the children number several thousands, and many of them get the blessing of their parents, who have come to see them as breadwinners of the impoverished families.
Over the past few days, I have been visiting the mine sites here and what I see is incredible.
The children aged between seven and 16 go to the mines as early as 0800 and work through to 1800.
They do hard labour, like digging in soil and gravel, before sifting with a pan for gemstones and shifting heavy mud believed to contain diamonds.
A boy aged nine who gave his name as Abou Bangura, and whom I spoke to at the mines site told me that he and his brother, who is 14, work for their father, who is disabled.
Abou has never been to school and he told me that he is not at all interested in school.
Teachers struggle to keep children in schools
Other children, some of them former combatants, some orphans and street children, are hired by adults to do their dirty work for them.
The ministry of gender and children affairs, in collaboration with non-governmental organisations, World Vision and Aim Sierra Leone, have registered 1,200 child miners, with the aim of taking them out of the mines.
About 50 of them have been placed in schools, but a huge number of the children are still slaving away in the mines, raising concern among children's advocate in the country.
Teachers in the schools where the children have been enrolled are also worried that without any attractive incentives, the youngsters may be tempted to return to the mines.