MAC: Mines and Communities

Child Gold Miners in Nicaragua

Published by MAC on 2004-12-24

Gold tempts Nicaragua children

Para acceder a una versión en español de este artículo, siga el siguiente link

December 24, 2004

By Ivan Castro, Reuters

Source of photographs is "The Legacy of Greenstone Resources in Nicaragua" by Anneli Tolvanen, Published by MiningWatch Canada. March, 2003

Child in Nicaragua minerLa India, Nicaragua - In a dim and dangerous tunnel lit only by the flicker of candles, Juan Laguna and four other children toil with rusty pick-axes to loosen chunks of rock they hope will yield at least a little bit of gold.

Laguna then undertakes the arduous process of milling and washing the ore. If it is a good day, it will give him enough gold to sell for about $3 (1.60 pounds). But he is not always lucky.

"Not every day goes well," says Laguna, who is 12 but has the slight build of a child half his age.

Working with hundreds of other youngsters, Laguna has spent five years scratching the walls of tunnels in the La India mining district, more than 100 miles (160 km) west of Nicaragua's capital Managua.

An important gold producer decades ago, La India has for the most part been abandoned because it now yields only low-grade ore, although some foreign and local mining companies continue to explore the area.

Rocks chipped from the walls of old exploration tunnels and from random holes dug by treasure seekers provide the bare hope of a livelihood to local families in this isolated area of Nicaragua, one of the poorest nations in the hemisphere.

Hundreds of people from surrounding communities work a portion of the mining district, where the landscape is pock-marked by century-old mine shafts as well as 30-year-old excavations.

Nearly 400 children work down the shafts and potholes, according to the International Labour Organization and Nicaragua's National Commission for the Eradication of Child Labour.

Child miners suffer malnutrition and dehydration, kidney diseases, gashes and serious accidents in the scorching, gas-filled tunnels.

"The work in these primitive mines is incredibly dangerous," said Bertha Guerra, who heads the International Labour Organization's program to end child Labour.

"In this country, some children go 30 metres (100 feet) below ground to get rocks that may contain gold," she said.

About 140,000 children aged 5 to 14 have to work for a living in Nicaragua, and more than 27,000 are 9 or younger.

Like their counterparts who cut sugar cane in El Salvador, salvage rusty steel bars from the ruins left by Venezuelan landslides, or sell sweets at stoplights in capitals across Latin America, these children often forgo school and risk life and limb to help feed their families.


About 44 percent of Latin Americans cannot afford to meet basic food needs, a statistic that has barely changed in 20 years. Experts say child Labour breeds poverty, as children fail to get education and other tools needed to break the cycle.

"Families often say they send their children to work because they are poor, but these children will end up even poorer because as child Labour has its roots in poverty, it also makes poverty worse," Guerra said.

With a per capita income of just $700, Nicaragua is one of the poorest nations in Latin America. About 70 percent of its 5 million people live in poverty.

Enrique Urrutia is only 17 but his thin body and calloused hands bear witness to the 10 years he has spent mining gold "to buy food and clothes and to help in the house".

Urrutia and three friends meet early in the morning in their village and walk two hours to the mines, returning home exhausted as darkness falls with their loads of stone.

"I come every other day," says his friend Junior Calderon, 12, although he added he only mines when he has no classes.

The incentive to find gold is not surprising given that its price on international markets recently hit 16-year highs of nearly $460 an ounce.

These miners receive only a fraction of that, but they have precious few options.

"For people who only have their physical strength to work with, it is an attractive thing, particularly when the gold price goes up," said one official from a multinational company exploring in the district.

See also the source for the photographs - The Legacy of Greenstone Resources in Nicaragua
by Anneli Tolvanen
Published by MiningWatch Canada
March, 2003

El oro tienta a los niños de Nicaragua

24 de diciembre, 2004

Por Ivan Castro - Reuters

La India, Nicaragua (Reuters) - Trabajando con cientos de otros jóvenes, hace cinco años que Juan Laguna rasguña las paredes de los túneles del distrito minero La India, ubicado a unos 160 kilómetros de la capital del país, Managua.

Child in Nacagarua minerImportante productor de oro hasta hace unas décadas, La India ha sido en su mayor parte abandonada porque en la actualidad contiene solamente oro de baja ley, a pesar de que todavía algunas compañías locales y extranjeras continuan explorando en la zona.

Rocas cortadas de las paredes de viejos túneles de exploración y pozos construidos por buscadores de tesoros, ofrecen la esperanza de una mejor calidad de vida a las familias de esta desolada región de Nicaragua, una de las naciones más pobres del hemisferio.

Cientos de personas de las comunidades cercanas trabajan una porción del distrito, donde el paisaje está agujereado por bocas de mina de 100 años de antiguedad o excavaciones de no menos de 30 años.

Cerca de 400 niños trabajan en las excavaciones, según la Organización Internacional del Trabajo (OIT) y la Comisión Nicaraguense para la Erradicación del Trabajo Infantil.

Los niños mineros padecen malnutrición, deshidratación, enfermedades del riñón, heridas y serios accidentes en los túneles.

"El trabajo en estas minas primitivas es increíblemente peligroso" dice Bertha Guerra, directora del Programa para la Erradicación del Trabajo Infantil de la OIT.

"En este país, algunos niños descienden 30 metros (100 pies) bajo tierra para sacar rocas que posiblemente contengan oro" asegura.

Cerca de 140,000 niños de entre 5 y 14 años trabajan para vivir en Nicaragua, y más de 27,000 tienen 9 años o menos.

Los incentivos para la búsqueda de oro no sorprenden dado el aumento de su precio internacional, que es el mayor en los últimos 16 años - 460 U$S la onza.

Estos mineros reciben solo una fracción de ese precio, pero tienen pocas opciones para subsistir.

"Para personas que únicamente tiene su fuerza física para trabajar, es una actividad atractiva, en particular cuando el precio del oro se va para arriba", dice el oficial de a una compañía minera multinacional que todavía explora en el distrito.

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