BATTAMBANG PROVINCE, Cambodia -- In the darkness, two boys with headlamps climb the ladder of an 11.5-meter mine carved into the face of a mountain in this province's Phnum Proek District.
This is an artisanal and small scale gold mining (ASGM) site, and the boys continuously gather gold ore from the mine near the Cambodian-Thailand border.
"Our parents rented land and farmed rice, but they were unable to harvest it due to flooding and we were left in debt," explains 15-year-old Vorn Eim, who moved roughly 300 kilometers east of his home in Kampong Thom Province with his brother 17-year-old Em. They quit school and have been working together in the mine since last year to pay back their family's debt.
The brothers wake up at 5 a.m. and descend into the mine after eating breakfast. They use an electric drill to bore out the gold ore and put it in a bag to take to the surface. For lunch they have a soup made of papaya and pig's trotters, and continue their work until 4 p.m. The boys rinse off their muddy bodies with water, and then rest those exhausted bodies under a mosquito net after dinner.
"One bag of gold ore can be up to 30 kilograms," said Eim. "Carrying them to the surface is really a lot of work."
The ASGM industry in Southeast Asia is full of children from poor households who have set out to do hard labor in order to support their families. The two boys have no holidays, and together they make around 50,000 yen per month to send to their parents.
"I don't even know how long I have to work (to pay back the debts)," Em lamented, hopelessly.
The Mainichi Newspapers and the Mainichi Newspapers Osaka Social Welfare Federation will be holding a press photography exhibition titled "Kagayaki Sagasu Yami: Tonanajia no Reisaikinsaikutsu" (Searching for light in darkness: Artisanal and small scale gold mining in Southeast Asia) in Kyoto and Osaka as part of a campaign to help children around the world. Admission is free of charge.
The Kyoto exhibition is being held from Nov. 1 to Dec. 21 at the first floor gallery of the Hirai Kaichiro Memorial Library at Ritsumeikan University's Kinugasa Campus in Kyoto's Kita Ward. Check the library website for opening and closing times (http://www.ritsumei.ac.jp/library/eng/). The Osaka exhibition will be held Feb. 6-12, 2018, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the first floor entrance hall of Dojima Avanza in Osaka's Kita Ward.