REFILE-Illegal mines a slavery hotspot in Colombia, Peru-experts – by Anastasia Moloney (Reuters U.S. – September 1, 2015)

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BOGOTA, Sept 1 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – A boom in illegal gold mining in Colombia and Peru is fuelling human trafficking and forced labor in and around mines but there have been few convictions for the crime, researchers say.

In Peru, the world’s fifth biggest gold producer and exporter, sexual exploitation and forced labour in some mining areas is a growing concern, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) says.

“Human trafficking in both illegal mining areas and small-scale mining is an increasing problem in Peru,” said Jeremy MacGillivray, IOM’s project development officer in Peru.

Poor, uneducated and unemployed women and girls are vulnerable to recruiters’ false promises of work as cooks, cleaners and waitresses in mining towns but are often forced into commercial sex work.

“Around mines, small towns sprout up providing services for miners, including restaurants, bars and brothels, where many of the victims of sexual exploitation are. They often come from the poorest areas of Peru looking for work,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a telephone interview.

Forced labour, also known as slavery, is a problem in Peru’s small mines, according to the U.S. State Department’s 2015 Trafficking in Persons Report.

“Peruvians working in artisanal gold mines experience forced labor, including through deceptive recruitment, debt bondage, restricted freedom of movement or inability to leave, withholding of or nonpayment of wages, and threats and use of physical violence,” the report said.

But many miners, as well as men and teenagers hired to clear trees, operate pumps and carry rocks around mines, are often not aware they have been trafficked.

“When you speak to people who work in the mines they don’t seem themselves as victims of human trafficking, as people who are being exploited. They think working in difficult and poor conditions is part of being a miner,” said MacGillivray.

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