Filipino chil­dren risk lives work­ing in gold mines: hu­man rights group


Thou­sands of Filipino chil­dren, some as young as 9 years old, risk their lives by work­ing in illegal, small-scale gold mines un­der ter­ri­fy­ing con­di­tions and the gov­ern­ment has not done enough to pro­tect them, a hu­man rights group said Wed­nes­day.

A Hu­man Rights Watch re­port said the chil­dren work in un­sta­ble 25-me­ter-deep pits or un­der­wa­ter along coastal shores or rivers, pro­cess­ing gold with mer­cury, a toxic me­tal that can cause ir­re­versible health dam­age. Those who dive for gold stay un­der­wa­ter for sev­eral hours at a time in 10-me­ter-deep shafts, re­ceiv­ing air through a tube at­tached to an air com­pres­sor.

The New York-based group says it in­ter­viewed 135 peo­ple, in­clud­ing 65 child min­ers from 9 to 17 years of age, in eastern Ca­marines Norte and Mas­bate prov­inces dur­ing field re­search in 2014 and 2015.

The Philip­pines had nearly 5.5 mil­lion work­ing chil­dren in 2011, ac­cord­ing to gov­ern­ment sta­tis­tics, with 3.2 mil­lion of them con­sid­ered child la­bor­ers be­cause they worked long hours or in haz­ardous en­vi­ron­ments.

“Filipino chil­dren are work­ing in ab­so­lutely ter­ri­fy­ing con­di­tions in small-scale gold mines,” said Ju­liane Kip­pen­berg, as­so­ciate chil­dren’s rights di­rec­tor at Hu­man Rights Watch and au­thor of the re­port. “The Philip­pine gov­ern­ment pro­hibits dan­ger­ous child la­bor, but has done very lit­tle to en­force the law.”

La­bor Sec­re­tary Ros­alinda Bal­doz told the As­so­ci­ated Press that the gov­ern­ment is work­ing to stamp out child la­bor at the vil­lage level with pro­grams to keep chil­dren in school, pro­vide them with health care, and give liveli­hoods to poor fam­i­lies, as well as push ef­forts to res­cue child la­bor­ers and pros­e­cute those who vi­o­late an­tichild la­bor laws.

Mary Grace Riguer, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the gov­ern­ment’s In­sti­tute for La­bor Stud­ies, said the gov­ern­ment was try­ing to pro­vide em­ploy­ment help to par­ents so they can af­ford to send their chil­dren to school in­stead of hav­ing them work.

Sev­eral boys quoted in the re­port de­scribed the fear they felt when went down a dark, deep shaft for the first time. Dennis, now 14, said he was 13 when he first went un­der wa­ter.

“Some­times, it feels like your eardrum is go­ing to ex­plode. I stay un­der­wa­ter for one to two hours. (Once) the man above me gave me the warn­ing that some­thing was wrong with the com­pres­sor, so I could im­me­di­ately go up,” the re­port quoted him as say­ing. “Some­times if the ma­chine leaks, I smell the fumes. Some­times I feel dizzy be­cause it’s oil.”

“Com­pres­sor min­ing” as it is known lo­cally puts adult and child min­ers at risk of drown­ing, de­com­pres­sion sick­ness and skin in­fec­tions.

Such small- scale mines can be found more than 30 of the 81 prov­inces in the Philip­pines, em­ploy­ing 200,000 to 300,000 from mostly poor, ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties, the re­port said. Busi­ness­men fi­nance the oper­a­tions.

Although the gov­ern­ment can des­ig­nate spe­cific “peo­ple’s min­ing ar­eas,” the ma­jor­ity of the smallscale mines op­er­ate with­out a li­cense.

Hu­man Rights Watch urged the gov­ern­ment to en­force an or­der ban­ning mer­cury use and com­pres­sor min­ing, and said it needs to de­velop a strat­egy to stop the use of chil­dren in the gold min­ing in­dus­try.

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