Opening address at the National consultation of the Convening actors to develop and implement strategies to reduce child labour and improve working conditions in artisanal and small-scale gold mining (CARING GOLD MINING PROJECT)
By Khalid Hassan, Director of the ILO Country Office for the Philippines at the National consultation of the Convening actors to develop and implement strategies to reduce child labour and improve working conditions in artisanal and small-scale gold mining (CARING GOLD MINING PRJECT), Manila, 6 September 2016
- Distinguished officials and our constituents from the government, workers and employers organizations,
- Members of the National Child Labor Committee,
- Representatives from civil society organizations, especially our partner, BanToxics!,
- Mining industry stakeholders,
- Colleagues, ladies and gentlemen, magandang umaga sa inyong lahat (Good morning to all of you)!
It takes a village to raise a child, is commonly attributed to an African proverb. It is about working together to raise a child and to ensure a bright future. Indeed, we are like a village here with one goal of ending child labour. It takes you and me, each of us to make this country a child labour free Philippines.
It reminds me, too of Emmanuel from Africa. He was only five years old when he started to work and exposed himself to the dangers of chemicals and thick dust. Every day, he had to wake up at 4:00 a.m. to work on a tobacco farm because it was the only way for his family to survive. Going to school was never an option.
Working with partners, the ILO’s Support for the National Action Plan to combat child labour in Malawi, called SNAP, helped remove children like Emmanuel from child labour. About two years ago, Emmanuel completed his studies at one of Malawi’s most prestigious schools.
Removing children from child labour is a challenge, but it is possible. Think about a child labourer suffering every day from an injury, illness, accident or trauma. Think about those 2.1 million Filipino children trapped in child labour, who put themselves in danger, risking their health or even their lives for their families to survive.
We know that poverty, vulnerable employment and the absence of decent work for parents are major push factors for child labour. When families do not earn enough to put food on the table and to meet their basic needs, all members have to contribute for survival.
The Artisanal and Small-Scale Gold Mining (ASGM) sub-sector is beset with widespread vulnerability and poverty, in which its operations are mostly informal. They are largely unregulated and occur in rural communities, where farming and other occupations do not provide enough for families to survive. They often operate illegally and receive little supervision or support.
The Artisanal and Small-Scale Gold Mining accounts for about 80 per cent of gold production. It employs around 350,000 workers, of which 18,000 of them are women and children.
Looking at their working conditions, you will see children carrying heavy loads and searching for a tiny speck of gold with their bare hands in mercury-laden mud. Carrying of heavy loads can lead to life-long deformity and disability. Severe intoxication due to mercury exposure can cause kidney and respiratory failure and serious nervous system impairment, or worst death due to mercury poisoning.
Children in compressor mining who squeeze their tiny bodies in small and dark holes expose themselves to hazards and fatal injuries. Digging gold in compressor mining may lead to sino-nasal damage, suffocation, drowning and death.
While we work together to address child labour, we need to also look at decent work deficits and poor working conditions in artisanal and small scale gold mining. We have to also consider continued support in the process of formalization and legalization of small-scale mining operations.
According to the Transition from the Informal Economy to the Formal Economy Recommendation also known as ILO Recommendation 204, adopted in 2015, “transition from the informal to the formal economy is essential to achieve inclusive development and to realize decent work for all”.
This is also in line with promoting sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all, which is Goal 8 of the Sustainable Development Goals.
The ILO believes that the legalization of small-scale mining is a key step on the road to sustainability. We see our role in supporting and promoting social dialogue so that governments, employers’ and workers’ in all sectors of the mining industry are able to address local economic, environmental, social and labour issues.
This thrust reinforces the government’s call for greater responsibility in mining activities in the Philippines. An estimated two million people depend on artisanal and small-scale gold mining. Necessary assistance for its operations to be fully compliant with environmental, health, labour and other social standards should thus be provided.
The ILO is grateful to the United States Department of Labor, BanToxics and each of you as our stakeholder and partner. Together, we will implement this project until 2019 to address child labour, decent work deficits and poor working conditions in artisanal and small-scale gold mining.
By working together through this project, we can find solutions and contribute to building the formal, sustainable and responsible artisanal and small-scale gold mining sector that we envision.
Today’s consultation workshop is a step towards this direction. Thank you for accepting our invitation to be part of this important dialogue. Your views and inputs matter to further enhance the project objectives and strategies. You are all experts in various fields that relate to the issue of decent work in artisanal and small-scale gold mining.
The convergence of our ideas today will collectively strengthen the overall project design. Your active participation is vital.
Our collective effort will go a long way to free children from the dangers of small-scale mines and to build a better and sustainable artisanal and small-scale gold mining industry. Let us not forget about children toiling in dark gold mines and suffering every day from an injury, illness, accident or trauma. I know it is very challenging, but it is possible if we work together like a village with one goal of a child labour free Philippines.
Thank you and Mabuhay (long live)!