Just over a week ago, an eight-year-old boy was discovered working in a mining pit in the Puruni Backdam by the Guyana Women Miners Organisation (GWMO). The members of the GWMO had gone to the area on a visit to canvass for members as well as continue their work against human trafficking and the exploitation of women and children, particularly young girls, in the interior.

To date, the GWMO, which started out as a body that sought to ensure that women miners are treated equally in what has for a long time been a man’s world, has done a tremendous amount of work in anti-human trafficking. As miners, these women have access to parts of the hinterland that many others dare not tread. And because women are the ones largely being trafficked, persons who are against human trafficking reach out to them. So much so that it has now become part of their mandate.

The GWMO, particularly its president, Simona Broomes, has first-hand knowledge of the seamier side of working in the gold bush. They have been into the belly of the beast, so to speak; and because they are so affected by what they see there, they have been working, mostly using their own funds to remove the rot.

The government, just as it denies reports of human trafficking, has continually claimed that child labour, particularly the worst forms of it, does not exist in Guyana. Over the years, instances such as children found working on fishing boats and trawlers, in factories as labourers and the eight-year-old pit miner at Puruni have put paid to these denials.

Furthermore, the ten Latin American women who were found working at a local strip club without work permits and who had all overstayed their time in Guyana, punched a huge hole in the ‘no human trafficking’ defence. One of the women had actually told the court, through an interpreter, that a man called ‘JC’ had taken their passports, ostensibly to make applications to extend their stay in Guyana. But in reality, it was to prevent them from leaving. The women, who appeared in court last week Monday, charged with immigration offences, were fined and deported, but there was no indication that the police went after either ‘JC’ or the principals of the club, who clearly had broken the law.

Just about a week ago also, the GWMO rescued two female mining camp cooks, who had worked for 3 months and then were dismissed without being paid a cent of their wages – another clear case of exploitation. Complaints were made to the relevant authorities, but as of Tuesday, the women had not been paid.

Last Saturday, a 16-year-old was murdered in the Cuyuni Backdam and his parents believe he was killed because he was trying to uplift his wages.

Back in the Victorian era when children as young as 5 years old worked in coal mines as putters and trappers; as chimney sweeps; shining shoes; selling matches, flowers and other cheap goods; as domestic servants; as prostitutes and in factories; practices in the metropolis were mirrored in the colonies. Children came much more cheaply than adults and employers did not have to pay them as much, if they paid them at all. Women were also similarly exploited.

Laws raising the age limit for child labour in the factories were first passed in the 1830s and as the industrial revolution continued, emphasis began to be placed on educating children. Consequently, it was expected that colonies would follow suit. But this is independent Guyana; 46 years on and we seem to have reverted to the 1800s, where it is okay for children to be engaged in arduous physical labour of all sorts and women can be sold as exotic dancers and sex slaves as long as it all remains below the radar.

The problem is that it won’t. People are speaking out; women are now proactive in condemning and ending the exploitation of their sisters and children. No amount of blustering is going to make it go away. The government needs to man-up and admit that it has a serious problem and then find the means of fixing it.

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