Held as Slaves, Children in Peru Forced to Work in Mines that Produce Much of World’s Gold

By Deborah Hastings
Published on February 11, 2014 in the NY Daily News

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There is the story of “Gordo, whose family was run off their farm by Peruvian drug traffickers, leaving him with no choice at age 12 but to go down in the mines or face starvation.

He toiled for six years. His salary? Food and a mat to sleep on.

There’s also the saga of “Oscar,” whose cousin sold him, at age 16, to gold mine operators. His job was pushing wheelbarrows full of rocks and sand through jungle muck. He contracted malaria and was left to die.

Workers gave him scraps of food, and he survived. But he slaved for eight months before he was able to pay off the fee that his cousin received.

A gripping new report from U.S. labor-rights group Verite tells those horror stories and others in an 18-month survey conducted in Peru’s mining regions.

The country is one of the world’s top producers of gold, but Verite’s research shows more than 20 percent of the precious metal is mined illegally, under slave conditions, by children and others who receive no pay.

Often, workers receive no pay. Rather, they must toil for free for a certain amount of time, and then they are allowed to mine for themselves. Whatever gold they can find constitutes their payment, the report said.

Peru is the world’s fourth-largest producer of gold, and there is little attention paid to the exploitation of miners from international companies and jewelers, the survey said. The Madre de Dios region is home to the country’s biggest illegal operations.

Gold is $3 billion annual business in the South American country.

Besides sub-standard pay, or no pay at all, miners also face myriad health issues in the isolated jungle mines including industrial accidents that cause severe injuries, malaria and mercury poisoning. Liquid mercury is used during mining operations because it adheres to gold in chunks of ore, making it easy to spot.

Mercury also is a highly dangerous, toxic chemical.

While boys are forced to labor in mining operations such hauling ore, girls from neighboring areas are sometimes forced into the sex trade, which services the miners.