Hundreds of thousands of people are employed in Peru in artisanal gold mining and peripheral services (such as restaurants, tire repair, brothels, etc.). During research for our latest report, Verité interviewed almost 100 workers, each of whom told a unique story of their experiences. Interviewees told us horrendous stories of labor and sexual exploitation in Peru. Here are two of those stories.
Oscar: Trapped and “Sold” at 16
When Oscar* was 16 years old, his female cousin—who had worked in a bar in a mining camp far along the Colorado River in Madre de Dios—convinced him to take a job at the mine. She told him stories of being paid in chunks of gold. After a five-day canoe trip on the river, he discovered that his cousin had “sold” him to the mine owner, and that he had to work for 90 days to pay off the money his cousin had received for recruiting him. He had no money with which to pay for his ride back home; even if he had, the canoes that transported workers were controlled by the mine owner. He was forced to carry at least 100 wheelbarrows full of sand and rock per day. A couple of weeks after he arrived, he contracted malaria. He was not given any medical attention, and was left to die on the floor of a hut. Other workers kept him alive with their meager rations of plantain, yucca, and water. When he finally came to after 15 days, he was weak. “If you want to eat, you have to work in the kitchen,” he was told.
After the three months were up, he approached the boss with his packed bag and asked for his pay. But he would not be paid and could not go, because he had only actually worked for 30 days. In the end, he had to work for eight months to fulfill his “90 day contract.” He was finally allowed to leave, and was paid with ten grams of gold. He sold his gold to a buyer in Cusco; he was cheated on the sale, and only received PEN 300 (USD 115) for his eight months of hard labor. A couple of days later, he came down with the symptoms of yellow fever, which he had contracted in the jungle. The money he had earned didn’t come close to covering the costs of the hospital stay. Oscar had to borrow money from his mother, then returned to work in the jungle to pay her back.
Isabella: Sex trafficked, and nowhere to run
Isabella appeared to be about 16, and was visibly frightened. She told Verité that she was from Pucallpa, a city deep in the jungle notorious for sex trafficking. She had been walking on the street after school with three girlfriends when a new-looking car driven by a man in sunglasses and expensive clothing pulled up alongside them. He offered to take them on a trip to Madre de Dios where they could make a lot of money. They didn’t ask exactly what they would be doing, but jumped blindly at the opportunity. The next morning, three of the four girls secretly left their homes and met the man at the edge of the river. He told them to get on the boat and that a friend would be meeting them in Madre de Dios. When they arrived, they were met by three men who led them each to different places.
Isabella was taken to the bar where she was assigned a small room on the second floor and told that she would be “accompanying” men while they drank. It had been three days since she got there. She said that she had sat with a couple of men while they drank, but they frightened her and she wanted to go back home. She wouldn’t leave without her friends, saying, “We came together, so we will go back together.” But she couldn’t find her friends—she didn’t know where they worked, and she was scared to go outside because she had heard that there were shootouts and that people hurt girls walking by themselves. She didn’t have any money and didn’t think that the boss would give her permission to leave the bar. When asked if the costs for housing, clothing, and food were deducted from her pay, she revealed that she did not know, because she would not be paid anything until she had worked for one month. She asked an ex-government official accompanying the researchers what she could do if she wanted to leave; the official said that her only option would be to call the Peruvian equivalent of 911, if she could make it to a phone, with the miniscule possibility that a police officer would be sent to the camp to help her.
* Names changed to protect sources.