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Our impact, their voices

See you at my "playground": Tackling child labour in gold mining

How an ILO project in the Philippines addresses the consequences of climate change and child labour, while improving working conditions in artisanal and small-scale gold mining.

Feature | Manila, the Philippines | 12 June 2017
Children work in muddy and mercury-laden gold mine to help their families to survive.
© ILO/M. Rimando
CAMARINES NORTE, the Philippines (ILO News) – Camarines Norte is a province in the Philippines at high risk of disasters due to the hazards of climate change. Annual typhoons with strong winds and heavy rains, cause flooding and landslides, which fuel poverty and force people to shift from agriculture to small-scale gold mining. The search for gold, however, also pushes children to work in dark caves and deep pits.

One of these muddy and mercury-laden gold mines is Archie’s ‘playground’. At first Archie, who started working in a gold mine at age 11, thought the search for gold was all about having fun and playing with his friends. 

While most children carried their backpacks to school, Archie used his back to haul a sack of ore, weighing almost 45 kilograms – more than his own weight. Archie earned Php 100 (less than US$2) and worked from 8 to 12 hours a day.

"I forgot about school when I started to earn money. At first, I thought working in the gold mine was fun. My friends and I played games and threw mud at each other,” said Archie. Then one time the mine was struck by a big landslide, caused by heavy rains, which killed and injured a number of miners. Now the gold mine is no longer about fun, but “fear, pain and agony”.

Children like Archie also put their health and their lives at risk through a dangerous, and now illegal, practice known as compressor mining. The children squeeze themselves into narrow entrances to dig blindly for gold in deep, underground pits, often underwater, breathing through hoses connected to diesel-powered compressors at ground level. The pits sometimes collapse, and the children are exposed to toxic chemicals.

Gold mining: A family business

But as the only son among three children, Archie had no choice but to help his family.

Working in gold mining has been a way of life for Archie and his family, passed down from generation to generation due to poverty. His grandfather worked in the gold mine, while his mother learned to pan for gold when she was 14 years old.

Archie’s mother says she does not want her children to suffer the same fate. She has tried different ways to earn income, and been helped by livelihood assistance programmes offering training in selling, sewing and massaging. Gold mining, however, is still the family’s main source of income, as it is for the rest of the community.

A small-scale gold mine in the backyard of families struggling to earn and to make ends meet.
© ILO/M. Rimando
"Poverty, vulnerability, disaster and the absence of decent work for adults are major push factors for child labour.  When families do not earn enough to put food on the table and to meet their basic needs, all members have to contribute for survival,” said Khalid Hassan, Director of the ILO Country Office for the Philippines, who also managed projects to address child labour in Asia and Africa.

Small-scale gold mining accounts for about 80 per cent of gold production in the Philippines, and employs around 350,000 workers, of which 18,000 are women and children. It is mostly informal and illegal, taking place in the backyards of poor families.

Working in these gold mines is likely to harm the health, safety and development of children. They work long hours and expose themselves to toxic chemicals such as mercury and cyanide. Carrying heavy loads can lead to life-long deformities and disabilities.  Severe mercury exposure can cause kidney and respiratory failure, serious damage to the nervous system, and sometimes death.

Addressing the root causes of child labour

The ILO, in partnership with BAN Toxics, is implementing the CARING Gold project to address child labour and to improve working conditions in artisanal and small-scale gold mining. The project, funded by the United States Department of Labor, seeks to address the root causes of the problem, poverty, vulnerability and the lack of official recognition of this kind of work.

The project will go beyond child-focused interventions. It will bring in important stakeholders to help the move from an informal to a more formal economy, to improve working conditions, and to reduce child labour.

Dangerous and poor working conditions lead to accidents, injuries or worst deaths in small-scale gold mines.
© ILO/M. Rimando
Camarines Norte, Archie’s hometown, is a pilot province of the project, where models for operation will be established. These models are envisioned as legal, viable, and compliant with labour, environmental and health standards.

Archie, who is now 17, is currently enrolled in the Alternative Learning System, a parallel learning system in the Philippines that provides a practical option to complete his basic education. He finds it a challenge because of the difficulties he has with in writing and reading. Yet, Archie believes that getting a good education will help him find a decent job.

“I’m ready to embrace whatever comes my way, and to accept whatever opportunity is available. I realized that the more educated you are, the better career options you have. I just hope it is not too late for me,” concluded Archie.

For further information please contact:

Ms Minette RIMANDO
Senior Communication and Public Information Assistant
Tel.: +632 5809905