More than 5,000 children work in mining in Colombia, but exploitation of children in mining areas is not limited to working in the mines.
The current situation in Colombia
Colombia's biggest mining sectors are in coal and gold. A boom in gold mining in recent years has been driven not only by large international mining corporations but also by unregulated small-scale mining controlled by illegal armed groups who saw an opportunity to boost their income and influence.
As a result, the value of illegal gold exports from Colombia in recent years has surpassed the value of cocaine exports, becoming the country’s largest illicit export – up to 80% of Colombia’s gold exports are estimated to be produced illegally.
In some cases, armed groups directly operate mines themselves, while in others they enforce extortion fees and incite terror on communities where unregulated mining is taking place, forcing both adults and children to work either in the mine itself or carry out tasks such as carrying messages or supplies, panning for gold, or for sex.
Risks for children
Children in communities that surround both legal and illegal mines are at risk of hazardous child labour.
Due to a widespread lack of knowledge of child labour laws, mining families often encourage their children to learn the trade at an early age so that they can gain skills, contribute to the family income and potentially avoid the risk of recruitment or commercial sexual exploitation by illegal armed groups.
This has a severely detrimental effect on children’s education, leading many children to drop out of school entirely. Although the government regulates child labour in legal mining, the same regulations do not apply to illegal mining, which currently accounts for 85% of all mines in the country, meaning that the majority of child labour in mining goes unchallenged.
Exploitation of children in mining areas is not limited to working in the mines. There have been reports of recruitment of children into armed groups in order to work in the mining industry, and of girls being recruited and taken for commercial sexual exploitation in nearby mining towns.
What is Children Change Colombia doing?
In 2019 we are beginning work in one of Colombia's illegal gold mining hotspots – communities along the San Juan River and its tributaries in the western province of Chocó.
In partnership with Acadesan, the local Afro-Colombian Community Council, we will run a one-year pilot project that aims to lay the groundwork for a complete overhaul of the failing approach to education in the region. Lack of engagement in school is a key factor for children becoming involved in illegal mining and its associated risks.
Children will participate in the development of a new curriculum which will make learning more fun, engaging and relevant to the local context. This curriculum will have a strong focus on self-care, care for others and care for the environment as a means by which to teach children the skills they need to protect themselves from involvement in armed groups and harmful labour, and to take a stand against the destruction of their natural environment caused by illegal mining.
Teachers will be trained to provide better quality educational and emotional support to their pupils. We hope that the local schools will be able to become champions of environmental protection and sustainable development in the region.
Our partner currently working to tackle this neglected issue is:
- Acadesan (page coming soon)