Some 20 to 30 percent of the world’s gold comes from artisanal mines throughout Africa, South America, and Asia. Artisanal mines typically found in rural areas of developing countries. They offer communities and families a way to make a living in areas where few alternatives exist. But these mines are also the sites of modern-day slavery; of the two million children who work in gold mines world-wide, many are forced, often through debt bondage, to do back- breaking work in hazardous conditions.
CHILD LABORERS IN MINES FACE A NUMBER OF DANGERS:
- Exposure to hazardous elements: Mercury is magnetically attracted to gold, making it a good tool for locating gold and separating it from the soil. In Africa, many children rub mercury into their hands before sifting soil through their fingers. In South America, children reportedly wash gold while standing in waist deep water contaminated by mercury. Prolonged mercury exposure causes retardation, blindness, kidney damage, and tremor. To a lesser extent, child mine laborers are also exposed to cyanide and sulfur. A 2006 Harvard medical school study found that children in gold mining communities showed neurological abnormalities resulting from mercury and cyanide exposure.
- Mine collapses, explosions: Artisanal mines frequently collapse, killing or injuring workers. Children are often lowered into narrow mine shafts as deep as 90 meters, sometime for up to 18 hours. In Bolivia, trafficked boys as young as eight help detonate dynamite in the interior of gold mines
- Long hours, back- breaking work: Traffickers in the Democratic Republic of Congo subject children to debt bondage in gold mines, forcing them to work nine to ten hours daily digging tunnels and open- pit mines. In gold mines in Ethiopia, children are forced to work an average of 14 hours a day, six days a week