Antonio Aragón Renuncio

Photos by Antonio Aragón Renuncio
Interview by Alexis Aubin

Childhood Lost

Burkina Faso is the fastest growing gold producer in Africa. While industrial mines are the main players in this booming industry, artisanal and small-scale mining (EMAPE) remains common.

They are so called because they have little or no machinery. They are clandestine mines that rely on physical effort. Those who work in them work day and night.

This micro-industry provides a livelihood for more than 10 million people in sub-Saharan Africa. However, the lack of supervision of this sector makes it one of the most detrimental for the populations that depend on it.

The photographer Antonio has been working for over 20 years in West Africa.  He has carried out many projects there, including several in humanitarian medicine with the organization he founded. It will still take him more than a year to access one of these artisanal mines.

On the spot, he is struck by the majority of women and children who work there. The small bodies make it easier to sneak into the underground galleries. The tunnels dug by force of arms go tens of meters deep into the rust colored ground. The goal is usually to reach 100 meters. According to some, gold is easier to access at these depths.

“The conditions there are horrible. They spend 12, 14, 18 hours in holes that are about one meter in diameter. There are no stairs or ropes, there is nothing to get in. They enter by standing with their hands and feet following the walls. Once at the bottom […] they take sand, put it in their pockets and come out.


The health conditions are bad. There is no water, most children go one or two months without washing. Then they sleep over the holes, if they leave them [unattended] someone may come and take them [possession and work for them].

According to international standards, mining is one of the worst forms of child labor because of the risk of injury and death. Constant exposure to dust, toxic chemicals, and heavy manual labour can lead to long-term health consequences. In addition to exposure to enormous risks, these children do not go to school. Working in the mines robs them of both their childhood and their future.

Close to the tunnels, the graves of colleagues who could no longer cope are being dug. The cemetery is the closest neighbor and often the next destination for those who go down into these cavities every day. Faced with the urgency of the needs to be met, the future remains more than uncertain.

Antonio Aragón Renuncio
Spanish documentary photographer. Photography Professor (More than 17 years). Publisher Xplorer Magazine. General Manager XtremePhotoWS. Freelance photographer for several International News Agencies. He writes about photography and publishes reportages across digital and print international media…
He founds/presides the NGO OASIS. More than 200 International Awards and Recognitions. More than 250 print shows around the world…
He currently works on long-term projects mainly in Africa committed to issues to conservation, global health, poverty, diminishing cultures, discrimination, sustainability and the environment.
Alexis Aubin
Alexis Aubin studied communications at UdeM and photography at Marsan College.  Whether as a photojournalist or as a communicator for humanitarian organizations, he uses the media to raise awareness about the challenges we collectively face.