« Children's Rights in mining areas » : The situation of Madre de Dios in Peru

For more than 40 years, Terre des Hommes Suisse has been working closely with local partners in Peru to protect children, improve their living conditions and promote their rights. Through its program entitled "Children’s Rights in Mining Areas", the Swiss organization and its partners have succeeded in developing solutions and bringing some real changes in the field. 

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« Le revers de l'or » photo exhibition by Terre des Hommes Suisse at Quai Wilson, Geneva - Source: Kosala Karunakaran

The region of Madre de Dios in Peru is known for its wealth in gold mining. However, it represents an alarming situation because thousands of individuals, including many young people, migrate from the Andes to the Amazon in search of better incomes. Representing some serious consequences for the environment and local populations, a round-table debate was held on October the 18th in Geneva to discuss the situation of children's rights in this particular case. Through this article, the International Center for Peace and Human Rights (CIPADH) puts together the elements provided by the various panelists who took part in the debate.

 

Séverine Ramis, International Program Manager for Terre des Hommes Suisse, introduced the debate by highlighting some key points of the program "Children’s rights in Mining Areas". In the first place, she mentioned that support is provided not only to children in order to continue their education at school but also to families to improve their income through agricultural activities. This support is led by the promotion of children’s rights as well as a number of preventative measures for both children and their parents, aware of the risks related to migration towards the Peruvian Amazon.  

Second, the promotion of agricultural activities, such as cocoa or fruit farming, is also supported as an alternative to mining in Madre De Dios. This is particularly done by promoting ecological farming to families but also to children in schools. 

Thirdly, Séverine Ramis explains that Terre des Hommes Suisse also offers care for victims of sexual exploitation by not only helping them reintegrate into their families but also by giving them educational, vocational training and legal support. 

 

For its part, Frédéric Chenais, Political Advisor in Human Rights Policy, highlights the importance of gold refining activities in Switzerland. It is therefore essential that these activities be carried out responsibly, taking into account the respect for human rights in the production chain. To this end, Switzerland is committed to international and local level through a dialogue with NGOs and companies.

Frédéric Chenais explains that in order to define the institutional legal context of mining extraction in relation to companies, it is necessary to rely on various instruments. For example, at the international level, there are the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs). This document sets a legal framework accepted by all and legally non-binding. In addition, it specifies that companies must respect human rights throughout their production chain. On the other hand, it is mentioned that the government must ensure that human rights are respected towards its population. The UNGPs also adds the need to create repair systems for aggrieved populations and encourages all nations to implement national action plans. In this respect, Frédéric Chenais said that Switzerland has implemented a national action plan that defines how the protection of human rights is ensured in the activities of companies. A committee has been set up to monitor the implementation of this plan composed of 50 actions.

 

As a representative of the private sector, Virginie Bahon, Director of corporate affairs and communications at Valcambi, provided details on the company's commitment to respect human rights.She mentioned that Valcambi supplies gold not only from large-scale mining but also from artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM). In fact, ASM represents 80% of the global gold workforce and, in Virginie Bahon’s view, this sector and the risks they represent cannot be ignored. Therefore Valcambi works directly with people and organizations in the field, such as the Better Gold Initiative, which helps to improve practices in mines, but also local NGOs such as Solidaridad or The Alliance for Responsible Mining

Even before starting a commercial relationship with a mine, the company must first check if the mine meets a list of criteria related to human rights, including children rights. Then, spot checks are made to validate the verifications made upstream. Virginie Bahon mentioned that her company's commitment to ASM goes far beyond a mere business relationship. For that matter, she says that there is a real desire to improve practices in mines because it is only through responsible practices that we can get out of extreme poverty situations. Thus, by working with organizations, government and civil society, projects are being put in place to improve mine practices. Thereby Valcombi supports responsible practices and helps these sectors to prosper economically.

 

As the Coordinator of the program "Children’s rights in Mining Areas" at Terre des Hommes Suisse in Peru, Carmen Barrantes states that the socio-economic situation of gold mining is an impetus to prostitution as well as human trafficking. Thus, set up more than 15 years ago, the project "Children rights in mining Areas" who vow to take care of young girls who are victims of sexual exploitation in “prostibars”. Carmen Barrantes explains that a survey was conducted to understand where these girls came from and what were their motivation. As a result, the majority of the victims come from Quechua communities in the city of Cuzco. For several years now, Terre des Hommes Suisse has been supporting three local organizations working on the prevention of the risks related specifically to this migration. In particular, upstream work is done to make young people aware of their self-esteem and their ability to project themselves into other future than migration. Regarding this issue, Carmen Barrantes adds that many human trafficking prevention programs were carried out in Lima, whereas in reality the victims do not come from this region but from Cuzco. However, it is important to know that access to these rural Quechua communities is not easy because they are remote areas with very few means of transport. Moreover, people who work with local partners of Terre des Hommes Suisse have to walk for hours to get there. Therefore, due to security challenges, only few organizations and state services are available in this area. Thus, through a direct dialogue, Terre des Hommes Suisse brings the voice of victims from rural communities to the national public policies in order to improve children’s rights. In this respect, the Swiss organization has become an important player for the Peruvian government.

 

To close the debate, Karl Hanson, Deputy Director of the Inter-faculty Center for the Rights of the Child at the University of Geneva, outlined four different approaches to child labour that should be considered:

1. Make child labour possible as a solution to get out of poverty. In other words, it would be a question of accepting child labour in order to let the economy develop and allow the country to equip itself with the necessary infrastructures.

2. Abolish child labour because working in these areas is far too dangerous. This approach is in line with the dominant position of the International Labour Organization (ILO).

3. Regulate child labour as Bolivia did with its Child Labor Act in 2014. However, this has generated many appeals from the ILO as well as Western unions. 

4. Support children's demands and ideas by giving importance to their participation right in all decisions affecting them. This is an emancipatory approach that tries to support these local populations in an extremely difficult context.

 

By Kosala Karunakaran