Introduction There is concern in the Philippines, Indonesia, central Africa, and South America related to children’s employment in small scale gold mines (SSGM). Ages range from 8 to 16 years, although statistics are lacking. We know children work in SSGM because they are poor; world gold prices keep them labouring. There is appeal to banning youth from mines, and creating no children in gold processing supply lines. These approaches appear to be the most ethical solutions, however this issue is more complex.
Definition of problem Evidence from Human Rights Watch indicates there are as many as 1,000,000 children in SSGM. There are risks of traumatic injury, dermatitis and diving risks in Philippines, lead poisoning in Africa, mercury (Hg) intoxication, and Hg contamination of local waters. There are remediation challenges, especially where mine tailings meet aquatic settings.
Environmental health results Local governments, NGOs, health providers, and mining companies must provide funding and alternatives such as schooling, and providing jobs to replant trees. Certify that no children <16 are involved with gold coming to world markets. Seek nonHg solutions to separating gold, including banning local sales of liquid Hg.
Discussion Local university medical/public health schools should sponsor studies of children who are now or were engaged in mining, examining injury rates, nervous system effects, effects of mine dusts--silica and lead, and times in water (in Philippines and Indonesia). These endeavours should also include studies of adult miners, examining the risks of silicosis/lung disease, autoimmune/kidney disease, and cancers based on industrial hygiene measures of silica and radiation. We need innovative means to remediate environmental damage from gold mining. We need leadership in occupational health, education, exposure assessment/industrial hygiene to reduce the numbers of children in SSGM.
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