Filipino children are working in absolutely terrifying conditions in small-scale illegal gold mines. Children as young as nine years old are being exposed to conditions that would make most adults quiver.
Underwater gold mining in deep, unlit, treacherous pits with no safety equipment puts these children at risk of drowning and decompression sickness, possibly even with safety equipment. These minors can spend up to ten hours under water with nothing but old diesel-powered compressors between them and drowning or “the bends”.
Drowning and decompression sickness are not all these kids have to worry about.
Children risk injury from falling rocks, wood beams, pit collapse, lack of oxygen, bacterial skin infections and brain damage due to exposure to mercury, which also attacks the central nervous system.
Under these conditions, it is almost certain that death or sickness is not a matter of if, but a matter of when.
The Philippine government prohibits dangerous child labor but has done very little to enforce the law. Meaning that, there is no one to protect these children. There is no one looking out for them. Yes, they are earning a living, sometimes they are the only source of income for their families. As Juliane Kippenberg, associate children’s rights director at Human Rights Watch and author of a recent report into this issue said, “Small-scale mining provides a vital livelihood for many Filipinos. But the government needs to take urgent steps to ensure a safe and child-labor-free mining sector so that families can earn an income without putting their children at risk.”
Let's not forget, these are children with hopes and dreams. Many of them have been ripped out of school or have never even seen the inside of a classroom. As a child I was terrified of the thought of being thrown into a deep dark pit, never mind one that is filled with water and been asked to breathe through a pipe, my only source of breath and life. I would feel suffocated in the bath, never mind a ten-meter deep pit of dirty and mud water.
The Philippine government must enforce the dangerous child labor law and cut down on the dangerous practice of sending young children to their premature deaths.
We call on President Benigno Aquino III to act. These children belong in schools and playgrounds, not deep dark perilous pits.
I cannot imagine the terrifying experience of being lowered into a deep dark pit filled with dirty water, knowing that I will have to spend hours underwater. I have had nightmares that come close, but these children are living these nightmares every day.
Stand with me and call on President Benigno Aquino III to stop this now.