UNICEF reports on Bolivian children working in one of the most dangerous mines on earth
Asset Duration: 03 min 21 secs
Shoot City: Potosi
Shoot Country: Bolivia
Shoot Date: 21 Apr 2011
Our 13-year-old guide Agustin prepares to take us deep into a Bolivian silver mine, where he worked for two hard years, beginning when he was only nine years old.
Agustin quit mining, with its long hours and low pay. Today, he earns more money showing tourists what it's like inside what's been called one of the most dangerous mines on earth.
It's called "Cerro Rico," "rich mountain," and towers over the city of Potosi, which itself sits at more than 4,000 meters above sea level.
"There aren't too many children working here – it's too dangerous," Agustin tells us. "To get the minerals here, you need to go deep into the mine. Most kids work in mines that are less deep and easier."
We turn on our head lamps and enter the mine.
It's claustrophobic and the air is thin. Agustin points to a pipe carrying supplemental oxygen to the miners.
He also shows us a shrine, where miners ask a deity named "Uncle Jorge" for protection from accidents. They also leave gifts of cigarettes and alcohol, hoping Uncle Jorge will respond by leading them straight to the richest minerals in the mountain.
One of the children who works in the mine is Agustin's 15-year-old brother, Santiago. He uses his small body to reach places too tight for older miners.
He then pushes the ore through a gap to one of the older miners waiting in the main mineshaft below.
Once their rail cart is full, they will push and pull it back through the narrow tunnel leading to the outside world.
Santiago will then shovel out the cart, part of a tough cycle he will repeat throughout the day. We asked him for an interview, but he said he can't stop working – for any reason.
Santiago and Agustin live in a shack right next to the mine entrance, along with their sisters, and sometimes their mother, who sometimes leaves to raise crops on a distant farm. Nobody attends school. Like most long-term miners here, their father died from lung disease. Even so, Agustin can't imagine a future without the mine.
Agustin says, "Some years, there have been a lot of tourists, so we can make money. In one day we might run two or three tours. If you're a doctor, patients can make you sick. And teachers – there are all sorts of rules holding them back. But as guides, no one tells you what to do. All you need to know is English."
For Agustin and Santiago, this is the face of opportunity. And as the afternoon wears on, Santiago hears its call, and pushes back into the mine, one more time.