Hundreds of children are working in gold mines in central Tolima department and the Colombian government is “totally indifferent,” said one local mayor.
A study conducted by the mayor of Ataco, Jose Antonio Jimenez, suggests at least 450 children between the ages of 8 and 15 work in the gold mines in his small municipality in western Colombia.
“Neither the president nor the governor of Tolima are interested,” Jimenez said. Widespread poverty forces parents to bring their children with them when they go to work in the mines, the mayor claimed.
Angela, a mother interviewed by El Tiempo, has four children, three of which mine alongside her.
“On a good day with my children we take out a little less than a gram of gold from these mountains and the buyers pay $20 or $30, but not every day is the same,” Angela said.
Some children are paid to run behind large machines which remove the earth, causing injuries that are sometimes very serious. The heat is intense: between 80 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Others work with only the most rudimentary tools, sifting for specks of gold in streams.
Ataco is the third poorest municipality in the Tolima department. The mayor has built three sports centers in an attempt to combat the problem of child labor.
“What we do is insufficient,” the mayor said. “We need a lot more resources to improve recreation programs and [to provide] food for the poor children.”
According to Ximena Norato, Director of the Foundation Agency of Journalism Communications Allied with Children, Social Development and Research, 5,000 children work in quarries and mines in the country.
ICBF director Diego Aponte Molano said children working in illegal mining operations posed the greatest concern due to the demanding nature of the work on top of the fact that their presence was difficult to detect.
Jimenez has called for governmental and private help. Yet the help has been slow in coming.
“The voice of the mayor has been like a drop of water in a desert,” said Antonio.