From the vast plains of Mongolia Genghis Khan launched an empire that spread from Siberia to Poland. Today the scarred landscape reflects the wounds suffered by thousands of families who have joined a modern-day gold rush for survival.
Sheep herders from the plains pan for gold next to professors from Ulan Baator. Some 100,000 people extract 7.5 tons of gold by hand each year. That is the same amount produced by all the formal gold mines in the country combined. About a third of those working are children.
This man recently arrived with his 12 yr old son. In the city, he earned about a dollar per day; but here they can make 5 to 10 times that amount. His son misses the city…
It’s very difficult here, very cold. I feel very cold. There is pain in my legs and arms, sometimes they bleed. I want to live in the city and study. My school feeds us. I have food there.
Children get up as early as 5 a.m to carry heavy stones, and stand in cold water looking for gold. They are exposed to mercury in the air, the water, their food and clothing. They may also enter tunnels as deep as 12 meters without proper clothing or protection to set up explosives.
The Mongolian Employers’ Federation has been working with the government, trade unions and the International Labour Organization to help informal miners work more safely and to remove children from the mines.
Kuyag Ganbaatar: Mongolian Employer’s Federation
We are taking a number of concrete actions, organizing non-formal education classes for young children working at the mining sites and skills training for older children so that they can get safer work in the formal mining companies.
Help can’t come too soon for women like Erdentugs and her family. A few days ago, she buried her eldest son who had just turned 18.
I used to have three children, but one died….When I see those miners, I think of my son.