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Artisanal mining exploits thousands of children. A frustrated childhood in Latin America

Artisanal mining exploits thousands of children. A frustrated childhood in Latin America

By Sylvia Ubal

Currently, one out of every six children in the world is involved in some form of child labor, doing work that damages their psychological, physical and emotional development. The ILO has launched a campaign to eliminate child labor in the mines and quarries and that after 10 years one million children can be removed from the mines and taken to school, to build a future for themselves, and to be able to create structures that guarantee that they will not be subjected to this dangerous form of work and exploitation again.


A serious phenomenon of child exploitation occurs in Latin America, where there are around 1 and a half million children and adolescents who work in artisanal mining, those who can never go to school, are forced to carry out heavy, unhealthy work, without any security, those who are mired in a childhood of illiteracy and misery.

According to the International Labor Organization (ILO) another 650 thousand would be at risk of entering this dangerous activity. The poverty of the families, the limitation in access to quality services in education or health, the lack of alternatives for the use of free time, cultural factors and the few opportunities to improve income would be the main reasons for the existence and increasing numbers of these small workers. This reality reinforces the situation of exclusion and marginality in which millions of people live on the Continent.

The ILO estimates that about 150 thousand Peruvian boys and girls are linked to the extraction of gold, while in Colombia the government figures indicate that around 730 thousand would be working in the exploitation of gold, coal, emeralds and clay in different regions from the country. In Bolivia, more than 176 thousand children participate in the extraction of tin, zinc and silver and in Ecuador the number of child miners is estimated at 1,500.

There are stone quarries in most of the countries of the world, and child labor exists and they can be seen breaking stones along the roads, or cutting and dragging rocks from the pits where these materials are produced. Nobody really knows how many children and adults have made this work a way of life. Small-scale and artisanal mining employs approximately 2.5 million people worldwide, one million of whom are children under 15 years of age. This number is increasing given that the current trend is to work more in small-scale mining than in large mines within the formal sector.

In Peru, for example, many children begin by helping their mothers in "simple" tasks of selecting mining clearing or "batting" in the river for long hours in the open. Then they begin to support the extraction of the mineral in the tunnels, the transport to the surface and its processing, a process in which they are exposed to explosions, landslides, suffocation and contamination with toxic substances such as mercury, cyanide and other acids.


The same happens in the other countries

Studies carried out by the ILO in different countries of South America have identified that child mining workers present symptoms of malnutrition and delayed growth, situations that are added to cases of chronic intoxication with substances used in the treatment of minerals, neurological deterioration caused by the same agents, as well as other injuries and disabilities caused by accidents and by working conditions that far exceed the physical capacity and strength of children.

In Peru, Doe Run (DRP) is La Oroya's multi-metal smelting plant. This complex is a huge source of heavy metals and sulfur dioxide emissions. More than 500 children work there and suffer from severe health problems, particularly from lead poisoning in the blood and chronic respiratory problems.

According to a study carried out by the Ministry of Health of that country, 99.1% of children in La Oroya suffer from lead poisoning, while 20% urgently require hospitalization

Central America is no stranger to this problem. In Guatemala, boys and girls have been detected, in quarries, dragging heavy loads, breathing polluting particles and using dangerous tools and equipment to crush stones and minerals. While in countries such as Nicaragua, for example, other Central American children and adolescents who work long hours in mines are observed, confined in the darkness of narrow tunnels, being exposed to serious accidents that affect their safety and health. Guillermo Dema, subregional coordinator of the International Program for the Elimination of Child Labor (IPEC) of the ILO.

The international body ILO has launched a campaign to eliminate child labor in mines and quarries and that after 10 years one million children can be removed from the mines and taken to school, so that they can forge a future, and to be able to create structures that guarantee that they will not be subjected to this dangerous form of work and exploitation again.

To this end, the ILO is working together with CASM (Communities and Small-Scale Mining), a global network of agencies and specialists in small-scale mining, which brings together companies, unions, governments of countries where this type of mining exists, donors and other international organizations, as well as the general public, especially young people.

The figures are alarming, there are more than 2.5 million children working around the world, 86 million children are minors and many others work in the informal economy without legal or regulatory protection.

Each year 38 thousand children die in work-related accidents, the largest number of these are working children under the age of 15, 1.5 million are in the Asia-Pacific region and the highest proportion of working children is found in Africa, almost a third are children under the age of 15.

The experience of the International Program for the Elimination of Child Labor (IPEC) of the ILO in pilot projects in Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Mongolia, Niger, Peru and Tanzania, shows that it is possible to eliminate the hazardous work carried out by boys and girls , helping mining communities to acquire legal rights, organize in cooperatives or other productive units, improve health and safety at work and the productivity of adult workers and ensure essential services such as education, health, drinking water and sanitation in these communities often located in very remote areas.

Currently, one out of every six children in the world is involved in some form of child labor, doing work that damages their psychological, physical and emotional development. The vast majority are active in the agricultural sector, where exposure to chemicals and dangerous equipment is possible. Others are street children, who are peddlers or run errands to earn a living. Some work as domestic servants, prostitute themselves or work in factories.

Sylvia Ubal - International Barometer - www.barometro-internacional.org


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