Print Version    Email to Friend
The gold dust children in the shadow of the mines

MANILA (UCAN) : Thousands of children, some as young as nine, are working illegally in unregistered gold mines in The Philippines, a report from Human Rights Watch claims.

“The Philippine government prohibits dangerous child labour, but has done very little to enforce the law,” Juliane Kippenberg, the associate children’s rights director at the organisation, said in a 39-page report released in Manila on September 30.

The report, entitled, What… if Something Went Wrong: Hazardous child labour in small-scale gold mining in The Philippines, reveals that thousands of children work in unstable 25-metre-deep pits, or underwater, as well as processing the gold with mercury, a toxic metal.

The report says that in March, the Philippine government banned the use of mercury in mining, but little has been done to enforce this regulation.

“Despite efforts, such as laws and programmes to address child labourers... the working conditions of child labourers inside and outside the mines continue to worsen,” Anna Leah-Escresa Colina, the executive director of the Ecumenical Institute for Labour Education and Research, pointed out.

Colina said in an interview that aside from the physical hazards, the children are also vulnerable to social ones.

She pointed out that a study conducted by her organisation found that child labourers work for 10- to 18-hours a day and, in extreme cases, for 24 hours straight inside the tunnels.

“They are forced to use illegal drugs to keep them awake inside the tunnels,” Colina explained.

Father Edwin Gariguez, the executive secretary of the Social Action Secretariat, said the Human Rights Watch report “further confirms the negative social impact of mining on host communities and the exploitation this causes for the sake of profit.”

The Philippines is the world’s 20th largest producer of gold.

An estimated 200,000 to 300,000 people work in the country’s small-scale gold mines.

Father Gariguez, said that the report belies the claim that mining brings development. “On the contrary, mining oppresses the poor,” the priest said.

The Human Rights Watch report also notes that “beyond the fears of mine collapses and drowning, children complain of numerous health problems, including back and body pain, skin infections, fever and spasms.”

Kippenberg said, “Filipino children are working in absolutely terrifying conditions.”

She pointed out that the report is based on field research conducted in Camarines Norte and Masbate in 2014 and 2015.

More than 135 people were interviewed, including 65 child miners between the ages of nine and 17.

“Lots of children in Masbate and Camarines Norte are dropping out of school to work in gold mining,” Kippenberg said.

“In order to tackle the root causes of child labour, the government needs to assist the poorest families financially and ensure their children are able to attend and stay in school,” she continued.

The Human Rights Watch report also says that children, unaware of the health risks, use their bare hands to mix mercury with gold ore to create an amalgam.

In the mining village of Malaya in Camarines Norte province, Human Rights Watch says it observed the unrestricted flow of light-grey, mercury-contaminated tailings from gold processing into a nearby river, a place children like to  frequent to play, swim and pan for gold.

“The Philippine government should be introducing mercury-free gold processing... to reduce the threat to all children,” the report concludes.

It is estimated that there are as many as two child labourers for every 10 households in mining communities and approximately 5.5 million young Filipinos engaged in child labour, with three million of them engaged in the worst form of labour.