Philippines Gold: Child Labor

Children and young teens work in some of the most difficult environments on earth.

Lives at risk in the Philippine Gold Mines

A young boy cries on the side of a hill overlooking the mining pits at Panique. The boy was dragging a small bag of ore from the pits to the nearby hilltop where carts were waiting to carry the ore to nearby smelters.

Lives at risk in the Philippine Gold Mines

An experienced miner teaches a younger boy at the bottom of a water-filled shaft 300-feet below the surface.

Lives at risk in the Philippine Gold Mines

A young boy with a headlamp inside a water-filled mine shaft.

Lives at risk in the Philippine Gold Mines

A boy emerges from a shaft entrance at the Panique mine with a 50-pound sack of ore.

Lives at risk in the Philippine Gold Mines

A boy uses a shovel to feed mud through a sluice box at the Panique mine.

Lives at risk in the Philippine Gold Mines

A child works barefoot in the mud and rock at the Panique mine.

Lives at risk in the Philippine Gold Mines

A young boy carries a sack of ore up a hillside at the Panique mine.

Lives at risk in the Philippine Gold Mines

A young boy pauses while panning gold at a surface mine near Panique.

American in the Yellow Springs, Ohio area.

Panning with mercury.

Lives at risk in the Philippine Gold Mines

A young miner continues to sample pieces of ore as the water level at the bottom of a shaft rises due to seepage when a nearby pump failed.

Child Labor in the Philippine Gold Mines

The Luy-A mining area outside the town of Aroroy is home to numerous mines dating to the pre-World War II era. Here, a teen uses a hammer and rebar to break ore deep underground.

Lives at risk in the Philippine Gold Mines

A young boy uses runoff water from a mine to wash mud from his face. The youngest children are used to surface mine.

Lives at risk in the Philippine Gold Mines

Panning without mercury is a delicate art but not as profitable.

Lives at risk in the Philippine Gold Mines

A small boy breaks chunks of ore near a mining area on Masbate Island.

Lives at risk in the Philippine Gold Mines

Tools used to break ore by hand.

Lives at risk in the Philippine Gold Mines

Miners break chunks of ore with five-pound hammers. These smaller pieces are milled in slurry, which is in turn, panned with mercury to form a gold amalgam.

Lives at risk in the Philippine Gold Mines

A boy tends a sluice box near the Panique mine on Masbate Island.

Lives at risk in the Philippine Gold Mines

A teenage miner prepares to descend to the bottom of a 30-foot "compressor" mine where he will work while breathing oxygen through a plastic tube fed by small gasoline-powered air compressors. Of all small-scale mining practices, compressor mining is considered the most dangerous.

Lives at risk in the Philippine Gold Mines

A young boy drops below the surface of a "compressor" mine shaft.

Lives at risk in the Philippine Gold Mines

A teenage boy surfaces in a "compressor" mine in the gold fields at Dalas, a village in the provide of Camarines Norte on the island of Luzon. Compressor mining gets it name from the practice of using small gasoline engine compressors to feed air to miners though thin plastic tubes.

Lives at risk in the Philippine Gold Mines

A young man surfaces after spending an hour at the bottom of a "compressor" mine.

Lives at risk in the Philippine Gold Mines

Panning with mercury at a small-scale ore processing facility.

Lives at risk in the Philippine Gold Mines

Panning gold slurry with mercury.

Lives at risk in the Philippine Gold Mines

A young boy carries a barrel of ore slurry to the edge of a river to begin the panning process.

Lives at risk in the Philippine Gold Mines

A shop owner fills vials of mercury for sale to miners.

Lives at risk in the Philippine Gold Mines

Mercury used in the panning process rests near the edge of a river.

Lives at risk in the Philippine Gold Mines

A miner washes himself near a pan containing mercury. Thousands of pounds of mercury are washed into the watershed each year.

Lives at risk in the Philippine Gold Mines

Children work alongside adults at the Panique mining area about 10 kilometers outside the town of Aroroy on the Island of Masbate.

Lives at risk in the Philippine Gold Mines

Children work a sluice box at the Panique mine.

Lives at risk in the Philippine Gold Mines

A young girl and her brother work a sluice box at the Panique mine.

Lives at risk in the Philippine Gold Mines

A child at work in a 40-pit mine at Panique.

Lives at risk in the Philippine Gold Mines

Children work alongside adults at the Panique mining area about 10 kilometers outside the town of Aroroy on the Island of Masbate.

Lives at risk in the Philippine Gold Mines

A teenage miner prepares to drop into the opening of a mine shaft after taking a break at the Panique mine on the island of Masbate.

Lives at risk in the Philippine Gold Mines

Young boys pan for gold at a mining community near Dalas.

Lives at risk in the Philippine Gold Mines

A small boy works in the sun at a sluice box near the mining community of Dalas.

Lives at risk in the Philippine Gold Mines

A young boy rests while returning from a dredge mining operation on the Paracale River.

Lives at risk in the Philippine Gold Mines

Sluice box mining near Paracale.

Lives at risk in the Philippine Gold Mines

A day's work for a team of 30 miners.

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The Philippines produced more than 1 million troy ounces of gold in 2011, ranking 18th in world production. More than half of that gold came from small-scale mines, according to the government’s Bureau of Mines. In these mines, many of them illegal, entire families, including very young children, dig, pan, crush and haul rock. Adults and older teenagers extract the gold from rock by hand, usually using mercury in a process that contaminates the land, water and food supply and exposes them to highly toxic mercury fumes. Tools are primitive. Children risk injury and death and face long-term health problems caused by back-breaking labor, exposure to dust and chemicals and, worst of all, mercury poisoning.

In compressor mining—the most dangerous of all mining practices—older teenagers and slight young men descend in deep pits filled to the surface with muddy water. Breathing through a tube attached to a compressor on the surface, they work in the watery darkness, filling bags of ore that are hauled to the surface. Sometimes miners die when the sides of the pits collapse, and they are buried alive.

Child labor is against the law in the Philippines, but is nonetheless rampant. The United Nations Environment Program estimates that more than 18,000 women and young children work in the Philippine gold mines. The U.N. International Labor Organization is trying to eliminate child labor, but without the support of local officials, it is an almost impossible task.