Human Rights Watch (HRW) has condemmed the phenomenon of child workers in Philippines in a report and a video released ahead of Children’s Month in the country.
The report named “What…if Something Went Wrong: Hazardous Child Labor in Small-Scale Gold Mining in the Philippines” shows thousands of Philippino kids who work underwater and underground for illegal small-scale gold mines risking their lives to earn a few dollars.
Phillippine law prohibits child labour in the gold mining business. Despite government steps in recent years to ensure children are educated, thousands of them are still working to find gold that they later process with toxic mercury metal instead of attending school.
Associate Children Rights Director for HRW Juliane Kippenberg says, “Philippino children are working in absolutely terrifying conditions in small-scale gold mines.”
The thirty nine page reports says children, some only nine years old, are at risk of being injured by falling rocks, wood beams, pit collapse and lack of oxygen. Sixty five child labourers interviewed by HRW said they frequently face health problems such as body pain, skin infections, fevers, and spasms.
Just as the law protecting child labour is not enforced, job safety is also poor. Because there is no oxygen machine underground, a 17 year-old recently suffocated when oxygen ran out in the underground pit.
Along with children facing health problems, adults working the mines are also at risk of drowning, decompression sickness and skin infections. Underwater oxygen is only provided by a diesel-powered compressor on the surface of the water. The miners can drown or suffer decompression sickness if any problems occur with the copmpressor.
In some areas of the Philippines gold mining is the main livelihood. A permanent solution to the problem of child labour would be to “assist the poorest families financially and ensure their children are able to attend and stay in school,” Kippenberg says.
The Minamata Convention was signed by the Philippines in 2013 to reduce exposure to toxic mercury. However, the regulations have not been applied.
HRW has urged the Philippine government to stop child labour, invest in impoverished areas, and take urgent precautions to prevent casuaities in the “dangerous” mining sector.