Francesca Scelfo


2024 , PERÙ
"Aquí tenemos una historia bien triste" - cit. Don Gèrman

Peru is a country rich in mineral resources and one of the world’s leading gold producers. Mining for gold extends across the country from the veins of the Andean mountains to the forest in the floodplains. Illegal and informal mining involves 21 of the country’s 25 regions. Nationwide, there are 86,876 miners registered in the Registro Integral de Formalización Minera (REINFO). 64,356 of these have suspended the procedure, while only 22,520 still keep it active. Arequipa, in the Middle South, is one of the most affected by the phenomenon of informal and illegal mining, along with Madre de Dios, Puno and La Libertad. 

In the hierarchy of roles gravitating around the mine, the last rank is occupied by the pallaqueras, women assigned to the work of manually sorting waste rocks extracted by miners on the slopes of the Andean mountains. The rocks are crushed and then sent to quimbaletes for grinding. The mining process involves the use of mercury or cyanide often without personal protective equipment. 

Their health is at risk from different factors such as: use of obsolete equipment, falling rocks, overexertion, exposure to dust including asbestos, exposure to mercury and other toxic substances. 

Every year, an estimated 70 tons of liquid mercury is lost. Exposure to toxic substances has harmful effects on people’s health, with greater risks for those living near mineral processing centers. In the middle South, in fact, there is a high incidence of respiratory diseases.

Many of them are single mothers, despite the extreme conditions of the work done on the rockfall, and carry on with these rates and conditions due to lack of alternatives. This is the price they have to pay to ensure a better future for their children, at the expense of their own health.

The poor working conditions lead to many difficulties experienced by the pallaqueras in the attempt to survive, and the impact of government control has direct consequences on the lives and rights of women and their children. Mineral wealth leads to an increase in the international price of gold and to a lack of employment alternatives. This is in turn associated with constitutional obstruction of the country’s socio-economic growth and a violation of fundamental human rights.