MAC: Mines and Communities

World Day Against Child Labour 2005: Digging for survival - The harsh reality of child mining worldw

Published by MAC on 2005-06-09

World Day Against Child Labour 2005

One day in each year is designated as 'World Day Against Child Labour' by the the International Labour Organisation ILO a UN body. The ILO press release [extracts of which are published after this editorial comment] has refrained from mentioning the reasons for this alarming rate of child labour in mines. It has however gone on to place the blame squarely on the small scale mining sector while absolving the Big Mining Companies of any responsibility. We deplore this stand of the ILO, for the following reasons:

The increase in child labour in mines or Industry is directly related to the present Structural Adjustment Programmes imposed on the poorer countries by the Bretton Woods Institutions and the present dynamics of capitalism also incorrectly called 'growth economics' [should be read as a pun]. This dynamics has caused massive expropriation of land and livelihood resources of subaltern communities leading to dispossession, resulting in pauperisation and it's the logic of 'digging to survive'.

By identifying the small mines and absolving the Big Company Owned Mines the ILO fails to see the intrinsic and complementary linkages between the two mining sectors where, smaller mines are similar to 'outsourcing' partners of the big players. We all know that outsourcing is an acronym for labour exploitation. It is this complementary relationship on which expropriation thrives. It also has another role in capitalist economics. It acts as a 'reserve tank' that keeps the supply demand relationships stable.

The third factor that has caused an increase in child labour is the fact that growth economics needs more than what can be supplied. As Big Mines have their gestation periods it is here where the small buddies come to the rescue; they are not only able to supply on the spot but operate outside the law i.e. time taking mining lease permits, transportation bottlenecks, handling dissenting groups etc. In such circumstances when the 'reserve army' of labour, a vital component of capitalism gets exhausted, it's the 'children's brigade' that takes over. It is blatantly obvious for those who want to or need to see it. But we must thank the ILO that in these jubilant times, when to stand up and speak about labour exploitation is not in fashion, they have courageously done so. Editor.)

World Day Against Child Labour 2005: Digging for survival - The harsh reality of child mining worldwide

9th June 2005

Union Network International

Of the estimated 250 million child labourers worldwide, the ILO believes more than one million work in mines and quarries. Under ILO Convention No. 182, working in mines and quarries can be defined as one of the worst forms of child labour - exposing children to severe occupational hazards and often depriving them of basic freedoms. Still, the ILO says child labour in mines and quarries is a problem that can be solved.

KATHMANDU (ILO online) - In one of the many dusty quarries in Nepal, Sudha began work as a stone crusher when she was just 12 years old. Once she dreamed of an education, but now the burden of work and concern for her family's well-being rule that out. Her wages, though small, are critical to her family's survival. Sometimes Sudha's brother, sister and parents work along side her in the dust and heat, crushing stone to augment their meagre earnings from farming.

Asked why she continues to do this back-breaking, dangerous work, Sudha sighs and stares at the sky. "There is no alternative", she says, adding that for her, this is her destiny - her pre-ordained role in life.

Over one million children worldwide share a similar destiny working in mines and quarries. The incidence of child labour in these sectors is far greater in some regions than others. For example, in the Philippines, nearly 18,000 children between five and 17 perform such work. In Nepal, approximately 32,000 children work in stone quarries. And in Niger alone, a staggering 250,000 children are employed in both small-scale mines and quarries, accounting for roughly half the total number of persons doing such work in the entire country.

These children labour above and beneath the earth, in conditions even adults could hardly stand. Underground, they endure stifling heat and darkness, set explosives for underground blasts, and crawl or swim through dangerous, unstable tunnels. Above ground, they dive into rivers in search of minerals or may dig sand, rock and dirt and spend hours pounding rocks into gravel using heavy, oversized tools made for adults.

Because the money they earn is crucial to ensuring that they and their families survive, many are unable to attend school at all. These children are digging for survival.

A closer look

While many forms of child labour are harmful, children who work in the mining sector face particular danger as the conditions often pose a serious risk to their health and well-being. In the Mererani gem mines in Tanzania, for example, children as young as eight or nine descend 30 metres underground to spend seven or eight hours a day digging through narrow passages without ventilation and with only a flashlight or candle for light. Tunnel collapse is an ever present danger. Sometimes children hide in tunnels deep underground during the blasts hoping to be first to find exposed gems. 'Bonuses' they receive for these finds are their only hope of pay.

Many suffer serious physical injury or lose their lives because of the risks they take. In the absence of proper medical care, injuries and health problems sustained in the course of their work can have life-long effects.

Despite ongoing efforts to eliminate the practice, child mining and quarrying is still found all over the world, most often in small-scale underground and open-cast mines and quarries. There, they work in the extraction and processing of various types of ore and minerals, including gold, silver, iron, tin, emeralds, coal, chrome, marble and stone. Today's child miners do not work directly for big mining companies. They may work for a small local mining or quarrying concern or with their own families on small concessions near bigger mines. They may also work in mines abandoned by multi-national companies when large-scale mining became unprofitable.

Eliminating child labour in mines and quarries requires an understanding of the complex nature of the problem. The small-scale enterprises that employ most child miners are unregulated and often undocumented. Without accurate information on the scope of the problem, it is difficult to address it effectively. Also, many mining enterprises are family-run, with the money from mining often ensuring the family's survival. Children cannot be withdrawn from labour in the mining sector until adequate alternative sources of support for their families are in place. Children who leave mining must then have access to good quality education with real prospects of meaningful employment when they leave school. This is the only real way of breaking the cycle of poverty afflicting their communities.

Putting plan into action

For Sudha and more than a million children like her, life can be better. Through its International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC), the International Labour Organization (ILO) is working worldwide to ensure that no child has to toil in a quarry or mine.

Pilot projects undertaken by ILO/IPEC in Mongolia, Tanzania, Niger and the Andean countries of South America have shown that the best way to assist child miners is to work with the children's own communities. Mining and quarrying communities have been helped to organize cooperatives and improve productivity by acquiring machinery, thus eliminating or reducing the need for child labour. They have also been assisted in obtaining legal protection and developing essential services such as health clinics, schools and sanitation systems.

These projects have already begun to prove that while difficult, the problem of child mining and quarrying is not only manageable - it can be solved. One such example is a project in the remote gold mining community of Santa Filomena, Peru, begun in 2000 as part of an IPEC programme covering Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador, where an estimated 200,000 children are involved in mining.

Drawing on the ILO model of preventing and eliminating child labour based on an integrated approach to sustainable development, the project helped the community to organize a community-based association to improve working conditions, obtain basic machinery to replace the most dangerous work performed by children, build local programmes to raise community awareness and support alternative income-generating activities for adults so their children don't have to work in the mines. In 2004, the Santa Filomena community declared itself child labour free.

Meanwhile in Mongolia, ILO/IPEC introduced its integrated approach in 2003, where of the 100,000 people who work in informal gold mines, between 10 and 15 per cent are children. The collaborative project between ILO/IPEC and MONEF (Mongolian Employer's Federation) has made great progress in not only improving relations between local authorities, informal miners, and formal mining companies and educating local miners on issues of occupational safety and health, but it has also enrolled former child miners into non-formal education (NFE) and technical college courses.

In Zamaar Soum, for example, 37 children between six and 15 years old have begun an interactive, participatory NFE program that provides a safe and stimulating environment in which to learn. In addition to conventional topics, the NFE program covers issues like child labour, health and safety at work, personal development and working arrangements. It is hoped that these children will be integrated into formal school in September 2005.

The 40 adolescents between 16 and 19 years old who worked in the Zamaar Soum mines have been enrolled in the mining technical college in Erdenet with the aim of moving them out of labour-intensive, hazardous work and introducing them to safe and decent employment alternatives. MONEF and its partners are currently investigating other types of skills training for former child miners and are helping to create job placement opportunities once they complete the courses and are entering the labour market.

While projects on the ground can assist child miners in a direct and practical way, only worldwide awareness of the problem can mobilize the international effort needed to end the practice for good. That is why on this year's World Day Against Child Labour, 12 June, the ILO, with the help of individual governments and workers' and employers' organizations, will be focusing not only on efforts to eradicate child labour in mining and quarrying, but also to help communities find a sustainable footpath out of poverty through decent work opportunities for adults and better education and skills training alternatives for children.

Each day, more children enter the mining and quarrying sector all over the world, and currently the problem is far from resolved. It's a vicious cycle, one in which children are expected to share the burden of supporting their families. But with measures taken to build strong, self-sustaining communities in mining and quarrying areas, the tide can begin to turn, and a growing number of families will have opportunities to provide their children with a better way of life.

Shattered youth

This week's World Day Against Child Labour gives pupils the chance to think about their contemporaries who have to work for a living, often in heavy industries, and the role their labour plays in the global economy, says Lyndsey Turner

Tuesday June 7, 2005

The Guardian

Tomorrow morning, British schoolchildren will awake to clock radios and hot showers, superhero cereals and breakfast TV. After a short bus or car journey, they will pass through school gates into bright classrooms and noisy playgrounds.

Somewhere on the other side of the world, however, 1 million children will wake at dawn and walk for miles to begin a long day of hard physical labour. These children, some as young as three, are employed in mines and quarries in India, Africa and South America. They dig for diamonds, gold, precious metals, tin and coal underground and in surface mines, often in unbearable conditions.

This year's World Day Against Child Labour, to be held on June 12, focuses on the plight of young workers in the mining and quarrying industries. According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), around 246 million children, some 16% of the world's youth, are involved in child labour. Industries such as agriculture, retailing and hospitality - not to mention the international sex trade - rely on child workers to keep wages down and profits up. Every child engaged in labour is a child denied a childhood, as well as an education, a fact that may provoke our own pupils into action and empathy.

This year's World Day Against Child Labour aims to draw attention to the young workers whose daily tasks include back-breaking lifting and carrying, crawling through networks of mines and tunnels, exposure to harmful toxins and work with dangerous explosives. Clearly, child labour is a human rights issue, and one that deserves a place within the citizenship class.

The heartbreaking case studies showing the abuse and injury suffered by child miners also provide a valuable insight into the global economy, and a focal point for the study of the movement of goods and commodities around the world. A lesson on child labour is an opportunity to explore the very notion of childhood, and a chance for our students to consider the differences between their own experiences of the world and those of their contemporaries in Africa and Asia.

Digging for survival

Using information gathered from the internet and the ILO's Digging For Survival resource pack (available at, help students to make a mining map of the world. Find out which materials and minerals are mined in different countries and discuss the way in which they are transported around the world for industrial purposes.

Introduce students to some of the basic processes involved in mining and quarrying, both in this country and abroad. Investigate the jobs child workers are given in surface and underground mines. The Digging For Survival workpack is useful here too.

Ask students to read different extracts from newspaper articles on child labour (available at and factsheets on children and mining ( Encourage pupils to join with other members of the class in order to share the information they have gathered. The exercise can be repeated until everybody in the class has shared their knowledge of the issue. Students should then be helped to recall the main facts they have learned and to record these for display in the classroom.

A day in the life

Investigate the life of a child worker by looking at some of the case studies available from the ILO's website ( Having read about the daily lives of child miners, ask students to hot seat (interview) each other in the character of a child worker. Information gathered from this can then form the basis of a short play about the lives of the workers, which could be written or improvised by small groups of students.

Challenge students to compile a list of their own reactions to the child labour stories they have read, and use these to inspire a short piece of creative writing. Students could compose a poem to reflect the sights, sounds and sensations of the mine, or write a story from the perspective of a young worker.

Ask students to list the problems faced by child workers in the mining industry (they might include fetching and carrying, working with explosives, exposure to chemicals, working in small spaces and wading through water). For each of these tasks, students should suggest the potential safety issues and hazards involved, before discussing the risks faced by young workers.

Children's rights

Help students to understand the ways in which child labour is entrenched in the economies of developing countries. Highlight the social, economic and cultural problems that might be encountered by children working in mines and quarries by encouraging students to make a mind map of the causes and effects of child labour. Use these maps as the basis of an action plan to phase out child labour.

Take the opportunity to examine children's rights around the world as part of the citizenship curriculum. A website such as makes an excellent starting point for a consideration of human rights abuses. Point out that a child working in a mine is being denied his right to education and explore the other rights that child workers are losing out on.

As part of the history curriculum, put the issue of child labour in the context of industrial Britain. Examine the use of children in mines, factories and mills throughout the 19th century (a site such as could help here) and research the legislation that ended the use of child workers.

Curriculum links and guidance

This lesson is written for key stage 3 (age 11-14) but can be adapted for other ages Keystage 2 (age 7-11)

Help students to understand how mining works with a cross section diagram or illustration of a quarry mine and an underground mine (see and Discuss and list the different processes involved in extracting materials from the earth. Challenge students to name different materials that come from mines and quarries and help them to understand how these materials are used.

Focus on child labour by asking the class to visit Unicef's website List the industries that use child labour and encourage students to use the internet to research the numbers of children involved in heavy industrial work. Ask the class to present their findings in a bar chart or pie chart, before discussing why some countries allow children to work in mines and quarries.

Find out how the World Day Against Child Labour is being marked around the world. Challenge students to invent a way of making the day special in their own school. Students should be encouraged to take collections and design publicity stunts to bring the issue to the attention of fellow pupils.

Key stage 4 (age 14-16) Help students to understand why child labour has become an integral part of the economies of some countries. Investigate the workings of the labour market and the rights and responsibilities of employers and employees. Challenge the class to find out more about labour laws in the UK, specifically the rules on employing teenagers and the introduction of the minimum wage.

As part of the English curriculum, a class role-play could be based around an attempt to ban child labour. Groups of pupils could be assigned roles (human rights lawyer, young worker, captain of industry, charity commissioner, government spokesperson) and should write notes to help them understand what they will be arguing for and against.

Students can find out more about child labour on, the Guardian's subscription-based schools' resources website. Learnnewsdesk, learnpremium's news site for nine- to 14-years old, explores the subject in detail through extracts from the Guardian and the Observer in this week's news in focus. Key stage 3 students should see also see the history section (Britain 1750-1900).

Learnnewsdesk is available free of charge to London schools via the London Grid for Learning website on

Día Mundial contra el Trabajo Infantil 2005: Excavar para sobrevivir - La dura realidad del trabajo infantil en la minería en el mundo

09.06.2005 ?OpenDocument

De los 250 millones de niñas y niños que trabajan en todo el mundo, la OIT estima que más de un millón lo hacen en minas y canteras. Según el Convenio No 182 de la OIT el trabajo en minas y canteras puede ser definido como una de las peores formas de trabajo infantil - exponiendo a los niños a graves riesgos laborales y privándolos normalmente de sus libertadas básicas. Aún así, la OIT dice que el trabajo de los niños en minas y canteras es un problema que puede ser resuelto.

KATMANDÚ (OIT en línea) - En una de las muchas canteras de Nepal, Sudha empezó a trabajar picando piedras cuando tenía doce años. Una vez ella soñó con tener una educación, pero la carga del trabajo y las preocupaciones por el bienestar de su familia le quitaron este sueño. Su salario, aunque escaso, es básico para la supervivencia de su familia. A veces los hermanos, hermanas y padres de Sudha trabajan codo a codo con ella entre el polvo y el calor picando piedras para aumentar las míseras ganancias provenientes de la agricultura.

Al preguntarle porque continúa haciendo este demoledor y peligroso trabajo, Sudha suspira y mira al cielo. "No hay alternativa", dice añadiendo que para ella este es su destino, su predeterminado papel en la vida.

Más de un millón de niños en todo el mundo comparten un destino similar trabajando en minas y canteras. El trabajo infantil en estos sectores es mayor en unas regiones que en otras. Por ejemplo, en Filipinas cerca de 18,000 niños entre los 5 y los diecisiete años realizan este tipo de trabajo. En Nepal, aproximadamente 32,000 niños están empleados en las canteras. Y es sabido que en Níger decenas de miles de niños son empleados en la minería a pequeña escala y en canteras.

Estos niños trabajan sobre suelo y bajo tierra, en condiciones que incluso los adultos aguantan con dificultad. Bajo tierra aguantan sofocante calor, oscuridad, ráfagas explosivas y se arrastran o nadan a través de túneles peligrosos e inestables. En la superficie se sumergen en los ríos en busca de minerales o excavan arena y rocas y tierra; y pasan horas triturando piedras hasta convertirlas en gravilla usando herramientas pesadas que les resultan muy grandes porque están hechas para adultos

Dado que el dinero que ganan es crucial para asegurar su supervivencia y la de sus familias, muchos no se encuentran en capacidad de asistir a la escuela. Estos niños excavan para sobrevivir.

Una mirada más cercana

Muchas formas de trabajo infantil son perjudiciales, pero los niños que trabajan en el sector minero enfrentan peligros adicionales además de que las condiciones de trabajo les hacen enfrentar serios riesgos para su salud y bienestar. En las minas de gemas en Tanzania, por ejemplo, los niños a edades tan tempranas como los ocho o nueve años, descienden 30 metros bajo tierra para invertir siete u ocho horas al día cavando a través de estrechos pasajes sin ventilación y con la única luz de una linterna o una vela. Los derrumbes de los túneles son un peligro constante. A veces, los niños se esconden en túneles profundos bajo tierra durante las explosiones esperando ser los primeros en encontrar las gemas. Las bonificaciones que reciben por estos descubrimientos, son su única esperanza de pago.

Muchos sufren serias lesiones o pierden sus vidas debido a los riesgos que enfrentan. En ausencia de un tratamiento médico adecuad, las lesiones y los problemas de salud que tienen durante su trabajo, pueden tener efectos que les afectarán durante el resto de sus vidas.

A pesar de los esfuerzos que se están llevando a cabo para eliminar estas prácticas, el trabajo infantil en las minas y canteras se da en todo el mundo; en las minas a pequeña escala bajo suelo y en canteras y minas a cielo abierto. Allí trabajan en la extracción y procesamiento de varios tipos de oro y minerales; incluyendo oro, plata, hierro, estaño esmeraldas, carbón, cromo, mármol, y piedra. Hoy en día los niños mineros no trabajan para las grandes compañías, sino que hacen su trabajo para pequeñas explotaciones locales de minas o canteras, o con sus propias familias en pequeñas concesiones cerca de las grandes minas. Además, trabajan en minas abandonadas por las compañías multinacionales cuando la explotación a gran escala deja de ser rentable.

La eliminación del trabajo infantil en las minas y canteras requiere entender la complejidad del problema. La minería a pequeña escala, que emplea a la mayoría de niños mineros, no está regulada y normalmente no está documentada. Sin la información precisa sobre el ámbito del problema, es muy difícil combatirla con efectividad. Además, muchas iniciativas mineras son familiares, y con el dinero del trabajo en la mina se asegura la supervivencia familiar. Por lo tanto, los niños no pueden ser retirados del trabajo en el sector minero hasta que hasta que existan fuentes alternativas de ingresos para las familias. Por ello, los niños que abandonan las minas deben tener acceso a una educación de calidad que les dote de adecuadas posibilidades de empleo cuando abandonen la escuela. Esta es la única manera de romper el círculo de pobreza que afecta a estas comunidades.

Manos a la obra

Para Sudha y más de un millón de niños como ella, la vida puede ser mejor. A través de su Programa Internacional para la Erradicación del Trabajo Infantil (IPEC) la Organización Internacional del Trabajo (OIT) está trabajando en todo el mundo para asegurar que los niños no tengan que trabajar duramente en las minas y canteras.

Los programas piloto emprendidos por OIT-IPEC en Mongolia, Tanzania, Níger y los países andinos de Sudamérica, han demostrado que la mejor manera de combatir el trabajo infantil es trabajar con las propias comunidades de los niños. Las comunidades donde operan minas y canteras han recibido apoyo para crear cooperativas y mejorar así la productividad mediante la adquisición de maquinaria. De esta manera, se elimina o se reduce la necesidad de contar con mano de obra infantil. Además, las comunidades han recibido apoyo para obtener protección legal y han sido dotadas de servicios básicos como clínicas de salud escuelas y sistemas sanitarios.

Estos proyectos han empezado a demostrar que aunque el problema del trabajo infantil en minas y canteras es complejo, puede resolverse. A modo de ejemplo se puede citar el proyecto de la remota comunidad minera de Santa Filomena, Perú, que se inició en el año 2000 como parte de un programa de IPEC que cubría Perú Bolivia y Ecuador, donde aproximadamente 200,000 niños estaban involucrados en el trabajo en las minas.

Siguiendo el modelo de la OIT de prevención y eliminación del trabajo infantil, basado en un enfoque integrado de desarrollo sostenible, el proyecto ayudó a la comunidad a organizarse en asociaciones de base. Todo ello para mejorar las condiciones de trabajo, obtener maquinaria básica para reemplazar las tareas más peligrosas llevadas a cabo por los niños, llevar a cabo programas locales para sensibilizar a la comunidad y generar actividades económicas alternativas para la generación de ingresos para los adultos de manera que los niños no tengan que trabajar en las minas. En el año 2004 la comunidad de Santa Filomena se declaró "Libre de Trabajo Infantil".

Al mismo tiempo en Mongolia, OIT-IPEC introdujo su enfoque integrado en el 2003. De las 10,000 personas que trabajan en las minas informales en ese país, entre 10 y 15% son niños. El proyecto de colaboración entre OIT-IPEC y MONEF (La Federación de Empleadores de Mongolia) ha hecho grandes progresos, y no solo mejorando las relaciones entre las autoridades locales, los mineros informales y las compañías mineras formales, y capacitando a mineros locales en asuntos de salud y seguridad ocupacional, sino que también ha incluido a los primeros en programas de educación no formal y cursos de formación técnica.

En Zamaar Soum, por ejemplo, 37 niños de entre seis y 15 años, han empezado una participación interactiva en el programa de educación no formal, que les proporciona un ambiente seguro y estimulante en el que aprender. Además, los tópicos convencionales del programa cubren materias como trabajo infantil, salud y seguridad en el trabajo, desarrollo personal y planes de trabajo. Se espera que estos niños puedan ser integrados en la escuela formal en septiembre del 2005.

Los 40 adolescentes de entre 16 y 19 años que trabajaban en las minas de Zamaar Soum han sido integrados en una escuela de educación técnica en Erdenetr, con la idea de sacarlos de las labores intensas y peligrosas de sus trabajos, y dotarles de un empleo alternativo, seguro y digno. MONEF y sus socios están actualmente investigando otras modalidades de enseñanzas técnicas, para ayudar a los niños mineros más mayores a generar oportunidades de empleo, una vez hayan terminado los cursos y entren en el mercado laboral.

Mientras los proyectos en el terreno pueden asistir a los niños de una manera directa y práctica, solo la concienciación mundial sobre la existencia de este problema puede movilizar los esfuerzos internacionales necesarios para finalizarlo. Esta es la razón por la que este 12 de Junio, Día Mundial Contra el Trabajo Infantil, la OIT con la ayuda de determinados gobiernos y organizaciones de trabajadores y empleadores, se focalizará, no solo, en los esfuerzos para eliminar el trabajo infantil en las minas y canteras, sino también en ayudar a encontrar el camino que saque de la pobreza a estos niños y sus familias. Todo ello a través de la creación de oportunidades de encontrar un trabajo digno para los adultos y de una mejor educación y capacitación técnica para los niños

Cada día más niños se incorporan al trabajo en las minas y canteras en todo el mundo y actualmente el problema está lejos de ser resuelto. Este es un círculo vicioso en el cual se espera de los niños que compartan la carga de mantener a sus familias. Pero con la adopción de medidas para construir comunidades fuertes y sostenibles en las áreas mineras y canteras, la situación puede darse la vuelta, y puede aumentar el número de familias con oportunidades para proporcionar a sus niños una mejor manera de ganarse la vida.

In danger's way - Trapped in cycles of poverty, children toil in Bolivia's mines

By Indira A.R. Lakshmanan, Boston Globe

June 26, 2005

POTOSI, Bolivia -- The day Lucas Garito's father died, his childhood ended. The family needed an income to survive, so 7-year-old Lucas and his brother Marco, then 11, went to work the next week on the storied mountain that had taken their father's life and those of countless other miners over the last five centuries.

Now 12, Lucas -- who can't read or write -- toils alongside his mother to support his five siblings. He hauls rocks out of a tiny hole his mother dug into the vast mountainside, an opening just wide enough for a child. For a total of $18.75 a week, he chips away at flashes of zinc, sulfate, tin, bronze, or silver.

Marco, now 16, spends from dawn to dusk a half-mile inside the unforgiving bowels of the mountain. After trudging 30 minutes down a muddy, suffocating tunnel, he descends down a wobbly ladder to light dynamite fuses and help drill for traces of minerals nearly exhausted after 500 years of exploitation. For the perilous work that had destroyed his father's lungs and has cost Marco half a finger on his left hand, he earns $25 a week.

Lucas and Marco are among thousands of youngsters working in Bolivia's southwestern mining belt, where privation and a stagnant economy trap families in a cycle of danger and early death that dooms the next generation to the same. Vulnerable to rockslides, floods, noxious gases and dust, suffocation, and explosions, youngsters who work in mining and quarrying are among the most endangered in the world, according to the International Labor Organization, which this month launched a campaign focused on eliminating mining as one of the most insidious forms of child labor.

The ILO estimates that 250 million children worldwide are forced to toil in a range of menial or dangerous jobs, more than half of them full time, missing out on an education that might offer a way out.

In Bolivia, South America's poorest country, child labor is prohibited by law, but economic need compels 24 percent of children under 16 to work outside the home, according to a study by the Atlanta-based charity CARE. The government estimates that as many as 120,000 children work in and around life-threatening conditions in small-scale mining. Officials acknowledge they have no alternatives to offer families who send children to work. Schools are often so bad that parents don't see education as a ticket out.

With a $1.5 million grant from the US Department of Labor, CARE, in cooperation with Bolivian charities, is trying to change that. Three years ago, CARE Bolivia launched a project involving 15,000 mining children and 684 teachers to raise awareness of the perils of mining, and improve primary education and vocational training for affected families. Yet mining -- no matter how dangerous -- remains the only option for many residents of the southern highlands. Persuading parents to sacrifice a child's vital income for a hypothetical better future is a hard sell, a long-term project that won't be done when CARE's grant ends next year.

''It's been getting worse in recent years, with younger and younger kids," acknowledged Dr. Elizabeth Patino Duran, Bolivia's vice minister of Children, Youth, and Elderly. ''It's not enough to offer them education, because the problem is a structural one of the labor market" -- a lack of safe, well-paid work that allows children to study as well.

Rich Mountain

Mining has been the lifeblood of this city of 140,000 since silver was discovered here in the mid-1500s. The extinct volcano that dwarfs the city was so abundant in minerals that Spanish colonizers dubbed it Cerro Rico (Rich Mountain). Potosi soon became the richest city in the Americas, its bounty underwriting the Spanish conquest of the New World.

But over the centuries, historians say, overwork and disease claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of indigenous people and slaves from Africa who were forced to work in the mines, and Cerro Rico came to be known as the ''mountain that eats men."

The adage still holds true, with the average male miner dying by age 45 of black lung disease or silicosis, if an accident hasn't already killed him -- 20 years shy of the ordinary Bolivian's lifespan. Female miners, who work outside the mine shafts sifting through tailings, die on average by 53.

Conditions have worsened since the collapse of tin prices and the state-owned mining corporation in the 1980s, which sped the disappearance of well-paid state mining jobs and benefits. A few dozen private cooperatives now operate hundreds of poorly regulated mine shafts where conditions are reminiscent of centuries past. Miners often work without masks, protective equipment, air hoses, water, or carts to haul rocks. Mineral brokers set low ''take-it-or-leave-it" prices, taking advantage of the weak cooperatives.

Miners say they need their sons to help them light more dynamite, drill more holes, and retrieve more minerals to make the low-paid work worthwhile. Only when something goes terribly wrong do the costs outweigh the short-term benefits for families.

Alvaro Apuri, 16, lost sight in both eyes and the use of his left arm when a faulty dynamite fuse he was lighting for his father went off prematurely, exploding in his face and altering his life two days before his 15th birthday. Apuri recalls hearing ''a horrible noise -- I couldn't see anything. I thought my lamp had gone out. I touched my face and felt bumps. . . . People were screaming and I heard later I was covered in blood," said Apuri, a skinny, shy youth who looks more like a chess team member in his school tie than a manual laborer.

After five operations and six months in the hospital paid for by CARE, Apuri regained partial sight in one eye and is beginning to move the fingers of his left hand. Mustering a brave face in the half-light of the one-room shack at the mouth of Monja Dos Mine where his family sleeps four to a bed, Apuri says perhaps something good came of his accident; now he can't work as a miner. Apuri dreams of studying medicine, but his family doesn't have money to remove the cataracts from his one eye, much less pay for books and tuition.

With no adult male to support the family, Lucas and Marco Garito have no choice but to get used to the miner's life. Every morning, they crawl out of a bed they share with two other siblings, splash water on their faces, and head to the plaza at the foot of the mountain. There, they try to hitch a ride on the bumper of a truck bringing miners up to the thin, cold air at 12,000 feet.

A typical day

By 8 a.m., Lucas has burrowed into the crawl space from which he tosses promising rocks out to their mother, Alberta. Marco took this reporter into Colquechaquita Mine (''Anthill of Riches" in the indigenous language), where he labors in clammy claustrophobia till a break at noon. The boys chew coca leaves, the raw ingredient in cocaine, for energy and to stave off hunger, eating lunch only on Saturdays, courtesy of a local charity that feeds miner children. They leave offerings of coca, cigarettes, and liquor at altars for ''El Tío," a devil-like spirit, and an indigenous earth mother clad as the Virgin Mary, hoping both will protect them. At dusk, their older co-workers head for the bars, drinking themselves into oblivion on $1.25 quarts of beer.

Marco, a quiet teen who seems old beyond his years, dropped out of night school a few months ago, too exhausted to study after eight hours of hard labor. He says he has no choice but to keep working in the mines.

''I'm willing to work to support my family so my younger siblings don't have to become miners. I want them to study so they can become teachers, secretaries, whatever." He admits that for Lucas, illiterate at 12, it may be too late. Marco harbors no illusions for his own fate: ''I know I am getting the same disease that killed my father."

Such hopelessness and fatalism are among the biggest obstacles to getting children out of mines. ''They can't imagine another life," said Edgar Arando, 38, president of the parent-teacher association at Luis Subieta Sagarnaga Integrated Night School, a high school and adult education center in the shadow of the mountain.

Arando studied economics for two years at a university and got a degree from a teachers' college. But when it came time to work, ''I had to return to mining like my father and grandfather before me -- there were no other jobs," he said. His biggest frustration is that with all the tools and advice from CARE on how to start small businesses such as tailoring and metalworking, ''there's no relationship between the training they're giving us and the jobs out there."

Yet there have been a few success stories that give teachers hope. Jose Lujan, acting director of the Subieta Sagarnaga school, tells every student about a 16-year-old who mined by day and studied by night. Last year, he brought his parents to school with him, and dropped his studies for a year to support his parents while they learned new skills. His mother learned dressmaking and his father carpentry, and both found jobs. The boy emigrated to Argentina, where he works in construction. ''This is a kid who saved his whole family from mining," Lujan said proudly.

Many of those who never escape the mines end up down the road at Obrero General Hospital, where there's a ward for black lung disease. Pablo Cruz started mining at age 13; now 47, he lies weak and skeletal, gasping for each breath. With a Bible as his comfort, he is fatalistic, reflecting that ''we all die someday."

Cruz wants his children to study and find other jobs. But asked what advice he would give to a fatherless youngster like Lucas, he paused before answering.

''That is not easy. . . . A young miner is working to get money for his family. There are no other jobs, so you are lucky to be a miner. The day I left the mine, I cried."

Más de 13 mil niños excavan en las minas de Bolivia

La Organización Internacional del Trabajo afirma que el trabajo en las minas es el más explotado en el mundo. Esa labor apenas lo soportan los adultos, pero niños incluso de ocho años están bajo tierra buscando vetas.

21 de Junio 2005

Cochabamba - Al recordar el Día Mundial Contra el Trabajo Infantil Minero, se reveló que en el país existen 13.500 niños y adolescentes sometidos a explotación infantil en las minas. Según el Centro de Promoción Minera, en la actualidad existen más de 13.500 niños y adolescentes víctimas de explotación en centros mineros.

Este fin de semana en El Prado de la ciudad de La Paz, el Viceministerio de Género, Generacional realizó una exposición respecto a la situación de la explotación de los niños mineros en el país.

También un reportaje publicado hace poco en la revista Escape del diario La Razón explica claramente lo que está sucediendo en las minas del Cerro Rico de Potosí.

Un testimonio

A sus 14 años, Basilio Vargas, tiene un físico poco desarrollado. Aparenta tener 10 y habla con gran naturalidad del trabajo en las minas del Cerro Rico de Potosí.

"Saco la carga y hago turnos. Trabajo como chasquiri (persona que palea y carga el mineral). Algunas veces volteo la carga y en ocasiones igual selecciono algunos minerales".

Basilio trabaja en la cooperativa minera La Cumbre y, según el Proyecto de Eliminación Progresiva y Prevención del Trabajo Infantil Minero de Potosí (PETIM), es uno de los aproximadamente 700 niños que están vinculados a diferentes actividades mineras.

Vargas trabaja en estas labores desde hace tres años. Recibe un pago de 40 bolivianos por día y, aunque admite que su pequeño cuerpo ya sufre las consecuencias de la dura labor, se ilusiona. "Algún día quisiera estudiar turismo y ser guía. Acá los guías ganan bien, sobre todo si hablan inglés".

Según el Convenio Internacional 182, ratificado por Bolivia, está prohibido el trabajo infantil en sus peores formas: la minería, la zafra y la explotación sexual. Pero eso sólo resulta papel mojado. En el Ministerio de Trabajo se calcula que 820 mil niños trabajan en las zafras de Bermejo y Santa Cruz, además en las minas de Tipuani, Guanay, Oruro y Potosí.

Desde el 80

"El drama del trabajo infantil en los socavones viene de largo, de los 80. Tras la agudización de la crisis económica, cuando se incrementaron los niveles de pobreza con el Decreto Supremo 21060, lo que obligó al cierre de varios centros mineros", sostiene Andrés Sallama, antiguo minero y responsable de seguridad de la mítica mina de La Candelaria.

Mientras en la Federación de Cooperativas Mineras de Potosí intentan minimizar la presencia de los niños mineros en Bolivia, pero la realidad les sobrepasa.

Cada día por lo menos dos centenares de los 700 niños se reúnen desde las 8:00 en las faldas del Cerro Rico y el resto de los centros mineros junto a personas adultas para pijchar coca, fumar cigarrillos, tomar alcohol a pequeños sorbos y, de esa manera, alistarse para comenzar un largo día en las minas, donde el oxígeno escasea.

La mayoría ingresa a gatas, hundiendo las rodillas y las manos en un fango pestilente para recorrer los profundos corredores. Como todos, los niños deben rendir al máximo cargando el mineral (jalajtiri) y desmontándolo, como barreteros, perforando la veta o empujando pesados carros.

"Al margen de la ley"

No tendría que ser así. Según las leyes de Bolivia y en atención a la Convención de los Derechos de los Niños, una persona menor de 18 años no debería meterse a la mina. Pero de nuevo, las leyes y convenciones se quedan en utopía.

Y los niños potosinos crecen bajo la sombra de ser algún día mineros, como sus padres, anhelando descubrir una veta y comprar una casa, auto e incluso terrenos.

Gold Miners Exploit Children in Niger

Ousseini Issa, IPS

26 August 2005

NIAMEY - Abdou Adamou spends his days in a pit 50 to 80 metres below ground at the Komabangou gold prospecting site. His job involves hacking up rocks and raising them to the surface with a bucket.

He is only 15 years old.

Komabangou, where Adamou works, is located some 175 kilometres southwest of the capital Niamey.

This mineral-rich region has sparked gold rush since 2001. A second gold-mining site at M'Banga, also located in southwest Niger, is some 95 kilometres from Niamey. The extraction of gold at M'Banga has, however, begun only recently.

"Each morning, they lower me into the shaft at 8 a.m. with the food and water I'll need for the next 18 hours. In the beginning it was awful but once you get used to it, it becomes routine," Adamou told IPS.

Like many other children, Adamou dropped out of school. "I left school when my parents decided to leave our village for Komabangou to look for gold. And since they had no one to leave me with, they brought me with them," he said.

"If I could've found someone to take care of my child, I never would have brought him here. I would have let him to continue with his study," Adamou's father told IPS. "It's hard for everyone in the village. People don't want to take care of other people's children when there's nothing in it for them.''

Harouna Sadou, a Niamey sociologist, said: "Rural elementary school pupils are confronted with guardianship problem, especially when the school doesn't have a feeding programme. Even in secondary schools, when the child does not receive a government allowance, it's hard to find a family that will provide for him. And that frequently explains why children end up leaving school.''

More than 100 children between the ages of 10 and 16 are believed to be working in Komabangou.

According to Niger's 1993 mining code, the minimum age at which one may work in mines and quarries is 18. But no inspectors have been assigned to the gold mining sites. Only occasionally does a team arrive for a surprise inspection, according to Ibrahim Balla Souley, the national coordinator for the International Programme for the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC-Niger), based in Niamey.

"To work at the site, one doesn't need papers to document your age for the mine owners. And the government does nothing at the point of recruitment. Here, it's basically the informal sector which operates," Daouda Kabani, the general secretary of the Gold Prospectors Association of Komabangou told IPS.

According to him, no gold miner or parent has ever been prosecuted for a child labour offence.

IPEC, which set up shop in Niger in 2002, is run by the International Labour Organisation (ILO). The group seeks to abolish child labour worldwide.

"IPEC-Niger is a programme that was negotiated by Niger government with the ILO to fight child labour,'' Souley explained.

More than 15,000 people of various nationalities from West Africa live at the Komabangou prospecting site. The concession was abandoned by a foreign firm in 2001 for lack of profit.

''Right next to the Nigeriens, the people from Benin, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Mali and Togolese work together. They've come to prospect for gold or to engage in trade,'' Kabani explained.

''That's the reality. Children constitute a workforce here. They work in various capacities. Some help with the rock-crushing; others work in extraction; others in transporting the water used to mix the crushed sand obtained after pulverising the rock," Kabani explained. A gram of gold fetches between 10 and 12 dollars for the miner, he said.

According to Kabani, some gold prospectors pay about 20 dollars a month to the children they employ, others 30 dollars. But they provide the children - who came to work at the site without their parents or guardians - with free room and board.

Adults doing similar jobs earn double, Kabani said, because they produce more.

The minimum monthly wage of a government worker in Niger is about 50 dollars.

Mahamadou Aboubacar, 13, supplies water at the gold prospecting site, where he has lived with his mother for three years. ''I began working after my father died to help my mother out. I fill about three 200-litre barrels of water every day, which I deliver to my employer on a cart one kilometre away,'' he told IPS. He earns about six dollars a day.

''I have no means of support here except my child since the death of my husband. He's the one who works and feeds and clothes me,'' Mamata Gado, Aboubacar's mother, told IPS.

''But parents also push their children to come and work here,'' Souley acknowledged.

''The children are exposed to all sorts of risks like dust poisoning and possibility of tunnel collapsing,'' Souley stated. There are also diseases connected to physical activity, like lumbago and injuries from hammers and pestles that the children grind rock with.

Lumbago is lower back pain or general pain in the lower back especially in younger people whose work involves physical effort.

Dr. Bako Bagassi from the National Programme Against Sexually Transmitted Diseases and HIV/AIDS in Niamey said the children are often exposed to and infected by various diseases.

''Many of these children begin sexual activity early. In Komabangou, more than 50 percent of sex workers are infected with HIV," Bagassi said, referring to a 2003 survey conducted by a health group.

To ease the pandemic, the Niger branch of World Vision, an international non-governmental organisation (NGO), has been conducting awareness campaigns and training since 2004.

''We've trained about 100 community workers to conduct awareness campaigns in Komabangou and surrounding villages. We've also created an HIV/AIDS testing centre,'' Abdoulaye Soumana, a World Vision worker, told IPS.

IPEC-Niger also established a primary school in Komabangou in 2002. It also trains children in revenue-generating activities such as selling water, using carts as a mode of transport.

''We built the first primary school on this gold-mining site and today it has about 140 children," said Souley, who is happy that some parents have chosen to enrol their children and keep them in school.

''Niger has ratified various international conventions relating to the protection and promotion of children, including the Convention on the Rights of Children,'' said Zakari Hamadou, from the Ministry of Public Service and Labour in Niamey. In addition, Niger's Labour law bans child labour.

''These children operate in informal environment which complicates the task of labour inspectors. That's why I think we have to concentrate more on awareness campaigns,'' Souley recommended, pointing to poverty as the main cause of child labour.

Sixty-three percent of Niger's population lives below the poverty line, according to the 2004 World Report on Human Development of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). (END/2005)

Niños buscadores de oro en Níger

Ousseini Issa, IPS

26 Agusto 2005

NIAMEY - A los 15 años, Abdou Adamou pasa sus días en un pozo de 50 a 80 metros de profundidad en Komabangou, un yacimiento de oro 175 kilómetros al sudoeste de la capital de Níger. Su trabajo consiste en cortar las rocas y sacarlas a la superficie con un cubo.

Se estima que más de 100 niños de 10 a 16 años trabajan en Komabangou. Esta región rica en minerales vive una fiebre del oro desde 2001 y atrae a familias enteras.

"Cada mañana, ellos me bajan al pozo a las ocho, con agua y comida que necesitaré para las próximas 18 horas. Al comienzo fue terrible, pero una vez que uno se acostumbra, se vuelve rutina", dijo Adamou a IPS.

"Abandoné la escuela cuando mis padres decidieron dejar nuestra aldea para ir a Komabangou a buscar oro. Y como no tenían con quién dejarme, me trajeron con ellos", contó.

"Si hubiera encontrado a alguien que cuidara a mi hijo, nunca lo hubiera traído aquí. Lo habría dejado continuar con sus estudios", indicó a IPS el padre de Adamou. "En la aldea es duro para todos. La gente no quiere cuidar a los hijos de los demás".

"Los alumnos de las escuelas primarias rurales soportan el problema de la custodia, especialmente cuando la escuela no puede darles alimentación. Incluso en escuelas secundarias, cuando el estudiante no recibe una subvención del gobierno, es difícil hallar una familia que lo mantenga. Y eso explica por qué abandonan la educación", dijo Harouna Sadou, una socióloga de Niamey.

Según el código de minería de Níger, que data de 1993, 18 años es la edad mínima para trabajar en yacimientos y canteras. Pero ningún inspector ha sido asignado a los sitios de minería aurífera. Sólo ocasionalmente llega un equipo para efectuar una inspección sorpresiva, dijo Ibrahim Balla Souley, coordinador nacional para el Programa Internacional para la Eliminación del Trabajo Infantil (IPEC-Níger), con sede en Niamey.

El IPEC, que se estableció en Níger en 2002, es dirigido por la Organización Internacional del Trabajo (OIT). El grupo busca abolir el trabajo infantil en todo el mundo.

"Para trabajar en un sitio, uno no necesita papeles que acrediten su edad. Y el gobierno no hace nada al momento de reclutar gente. Es básicamente el sector informal el que opera aquí", explicó a IPS Daouda Kabani, secretario general de la Asociación de Buscadores de Oro de Komabangou.

Según él, ni mineros ni padres han sido jamás procesados por promover el trabajo infantil.

Más de 15.000 personas de varias nacionalidades de África occidental viven en la mina de Komabangou. La concesión fue abandonada por una firma extranjera en 2001 ante las escasas ganancias que dejaba su explotación.

"La gente de Benín, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Mali y Togo trabaja junto con los nigerianos. Han llegado a buscar oro o a comerciar", según Kabani.

"Esta es la realidad. Los niños constituyen una fuerza de trabajo. Se desempeñan en varios puestos. Algunos ayudan a romper las rocas, otros trabajan en la extracción, otros transportan el agua que se usa para mezclar la arena que se obtiene de la roca pulverizada", explicó Kabani. Un gramo de oro deja entre 10 y 12 dólares para el minero, dijo.

Según Kabani, algunos buscadores de oro pagan alrededor de 20 dólares por mes a los niños que emplean, y a otros 30 dólares. A cambio, les dan comida y alojamiento a los que llegaron sin padres o tutores.

Los adultos que hacen trabajos similares ganan el doble porque producen más, sostuvo.

El salario mínimo de un trabajador del gobierno en Níger es de unos 50 dólares por mes.

Mahamadou Aboubacar, de 13 años, suministra agua en la zona de búsqueda de oro, donde ha vivido con su madre durante tres años. "Empecé a trabajar después de que mi padre murió, para ayudar a mi madre. Cada día lleno con agua unos tres barriles de 200 litros, que llevo en un carro a mi empleador, que está a un kilómetro de distancia", relató a IPS. Él gana unos seis dólares por día.

"Desde la muerte de mi esposo no tengo medios de apoyo aquí excepto mi hijo. Él es el único que trabaja, y me alimenta y me viste", dijo a IPS Mamata Gado, madre de Aboubacar.

"Los padres también empujan a sus hijos a venir a trabajar aquí", afirmó Souley.

"Los menores están expuestos a toda clase de riesgos, como el envenenamiento por el polvo y la posibilidad de que colapsen los túneles", agregó. También hay enfermedades vinculadas a la actividad física, como el lumbago y las heridas con martillos y morteros con los que los niños muelen las piedras.

Bako Bagassi, médico del Programa Nacional contra Enfermedades Sexualmente Transmisibles y VIH/Sida en Niamey dijo que los niños a menudo están expuestos y contraen varias infecciones.

"Muchos inician su actividad sexual tempranamente. En Komabangou, más de 50 por ciento de las trabajadoras sexuales están infectadas con VIH (virus de inmunodeficiencia humana, causante del sida)", dijo Bagassi, refiriéndose a una encuesta de 2003 efectuada por un grupo de salud.

Para combatir la pandemia, la filial en Níger de World Vision (Visión Mundial), una organización no gubernamental (ONG) internacional, realiza campañas de información y entrenamiento desde 2004.

"Hemos entrenado a unos 100 trabajadores comunitarios para llevar a cabo campañas en Komabangou y aldeas próximas. También hemos creado un centro de diagnóstico de VIH/sida", indicó a IPS Abdoulaye Soumana, de World Vision.

IPEC-Níger también estableció una escuela primaria en Komabangou en 2002 y capacita a niñas y niños en actividades que dejen ingresos, como vender agua y usar carros como medio de transporte.

"Construimos la primera escuela primaria en este sitio minero y hoy tiene aproximadamente 140 alumnos", contó Souley, feliz de que algunos padres hayan elegido inscribir a sus hijos y mandarlos a la escuela.

"Níger ha suscrito varias convenciones internacionales para la protección y promoción infantil, incluyendo la Convención sobre Derechos del Niño", dijo Zakari Hamadou, del Ministerio de Servicio Público y Trabajo en Niamey. Además, las leyes laborales de este país prohíben el trabajo infantil.

"Estos niños actúan en un ambiente informal que complica la tarea de los inspectores de trabajo. Por eso tenemos que concentrarnos más en las campañas de información", recomendó Souley, señalando a la pobreza como la principal causa del trabajo infantil.

Sesenta y tres por ciento de la población de Níger vive bajo la línea de pobreza, según el Informe Mundial sobre Desarrollo Humano 2004 del Programa de las Naciones Unidas para el Desarrollo.

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