Peruvian organized crime groups exploit children to mine gold illegally

By Dialogo
February 24, 2014



Organized crime groups in Peru are forcing children and teenagers to work for them in illegal gold mining enterprises, according to authorities and human rights advocates.
Many of these children and teenagers are also sexually exploited by their organized crime captors, according to a recent report, “Risk Analysis Indicators of Forced Labor and Trafficking in illegal gold mining in Peru,” by Verité, a human rights group which is based in the United States.
The Sinaloa Cartel, Los Urbenos, and Los Rastrojos are among the organized crime groups which conduct illegal mining operations. Each of these are transnational criminal organizations which traffic drugs and engage in other criminal enterprises.
Organized crime groups are taking advantage of one of Peru’s most valuable natural resources.
Peru is the largest gold producer in Latin America and sixth largest worldwide. Honest miners have received competition from violent organized crime groups in recent years. Organized crime groups employ 100,000 people directly in illegal gold mining enterprises and 400,000 people indirectly, according to the Verité report. Approximately 50,000 children and teenagers were working in illegal gold mining enterprises in 2010, according to the International Labor Organization (ILO).
Illegal organized crime enterprises produce between 15 and 22 percent of the country’s gold, which is worth about $3 billion (USD) every year, according to the report. Since 2008, illegal mining production has increased fivefold in Peru, according to published reports.

Human rights abuses

The incursion by organized crime groups into the gold mining business has led to “forced child labor, the loss of human lives, human trafficking and sexual exploitation,” according to the report.
“The issue is alarming. Family clans and criminal gangs have accumulated great fortunes by obtaining gold with the sweat and tears of children and adolescents,” said Guadalupe Oscar Zevallos, director of Huarayo Association an organization located in the department of Madre de Dios. The group provides shelter for children and adults who were forced to work for criminal organizations but escaped.
Organized crime groups which force children and teenagers to work for them control much of the gold mining in the departments of Madre de Dios, Cusco , Puno and Arequipa, according to the report.
Overall, organized crime groups operated illegal gold mining operations in 21 of the country’s 25 regions in 2013, according to the report.

Trying to escape poverty

Some children, teenagers, and adults begin working for illegal mining enterprises voluntarily, in the hopes of escaping poverty.
Organized crime operatives require these workers to sign a contract, saying they will work for 90 days without pay, supposedly to cover the costs of “recruitment fees” and travel expenses.
But once they are the mining camp, the workers, young and old, are not allowed to leave and are not paid even after 90 days.
Some teenagers were forced to work for six years for food and a place to sleep, but were never paid, according to the Verité report. Organized crime operatives have killed some young workers who reached adulthood and demanded payment.
Organized crime groups recruit children, teenagers, and adults to work in a variety of jobs at the the gold mines. Some of the workers are ordered to use machetes to cut trees, some shovel and move rocks and dirt, and some operate pumps which are used to separate gold particles.
The work is dangerous and unhealthy. Workers often contract tropical diseases, such as malaria after being bitten by mosquitos. Some workers are injured in accidents.

Sexual exploitation

Not all of the workers are exploited in the gold mines. Organized crime groups also force thousands of girls, teenagers, and young women to work as prostitutes in mining regions. Much of this activity occurs in the department of Madre de Dios.
Organized crime operatives trick teenagers and young women, promising them jobs as waitresses, cooks, or babysitters, Zevallos said. Instead, they are forced to work in bars, “attending to miners who want sex,” Zevallos said.
There are about 150 bars in Madre de Dios. The bars are open 24 hours a day. Girls and young women from Andean peasant communities are forced to work in some bars, while girls an women from cities are forced to work in other bars.
In 2010, there were about 2,000 girls, teenagers, and women laboring as sex workers in 100 bars, according to the Huarayo Association. About 60 percent of these sex workers were minors, the association estimated.
Organized crime groups use violence to enforce their illegal gold mining enterprises, Zevallos said. For example, in February 2014, a group of organized crime gunmen fatally shot the owner of a bar in Puerto Maldonado. The killing was probably connected to a dispute involving an illegal gold mining enterprise, Zevallos said.
Peruvian police have managed to rescue some girls from sexual exploitation in Madre de Dios, Zevallos said.
It is crucial that security forces and civilians work together to fight organized crime, Zevallos said. Using information provided by people who have escaped illegal mining operations, security forces have identified and destroyed dozens of illicit mining camps in recent years.


Special teams of police and prosecutors to fight illegal mining

In February 204, Peruvian authorities placed special teams of police agents and prosecutors at airports in Lima , Arequipa, Cusco , Juliaca and Madre de Dios to curb illegal exports of gold.
On January 25, 2014, 900 members of the National Police of Peru, supported by two helicopters and 18 prosecutors, evicted more than a thousand laborers of an illegal mining camp in the Tambopata area. Security forces destroyed eight pumps. Law enforcement officials remain in the area to prevent miners from returning.
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