Peruvian men, women, and children are exploited in forced labor in the country, principally in illegal and legal gold mining and related services, logging, agriculture, brick-making, unregistered factories, organized street begging, and domestic service. Peruvians working in artisanal gold mines and nearby makeshift camps that provide services to miners are subjected to forced labor, including through deceptive recruitment, debt bondage, restricted freedom of movement, withholding of or non-payment of wages, and threats and use of physical violence.
Mario was 16 years old when he went to work in a mine. Working long hours with no breaks, Mario's employer offered to keep his money safe, giving him an allowance from it to buy shoes and clothes. People became ill and were dying in the mines but weren't allowed days off. When Mario asked his employer for his money back he refused, beat Mario up and threatened to kill him, leaving him in the middle of the jungle.
I was living with my aunt in Cusco when a school friend introduced me to Señor Carlos. He’d worked with him in the gold mines and said he was trustworthy. He said I could make good money fast and the work wasn’t that hard, all I needed to bring was my birth certificate. I packed a small bag and left. I was 16.
We went to Puerto Maldonado, then left for La Pampa. To get good land and good gold, you need to try different sites, so that’s what we did. We worked from 5am to midnight and would eat while we worked. My pay was 1,500 soles (£372) a month, but I was new to the job and didn’t know where or how to keep my money safe, because miners are always drunk, and keeping money or gold around is dangerous. You can get killed if someone thinks you robbed them. Señor Carlos offered to keep my salary for me, and would give me 100 or 200 soles to buy clothes or shoes for work.
I stayed for a year doing different jobs. At first, we’d get 20 or 30 grams a shift, but then they bought two motors and the shifts changed. I started working 24 hours straight and was getting tired and sick all the time, but they didn’t let us take any days off. People were dying inside the mines, and their bodies would just be taken away and dumped outside. No one said anything about it, and nobody asked.
One day, I saw a nice guy I knew from the mine leaving with Señor Carlos. The next day, the guy was dead. I was terrified. I asked Señor Carlos for all my cash at the end of my shift, but he refused, and said he wouldn’t give me my documents back, either. Then he beat me up and threatened to kill me. He drove me out to the middle of the jungle and dumped me in between the mine and the highway. Even now, all these years later, I’m terrified he’ll find me.
These days I drive a motor taxi. It doesn’t pay great, but it lets me rent a room all to myself. If I could choose anything, I’d study to be a veterinarian. I like animals a lot, they’re kinder than humans.
As told to the Guardian