While the world was celebrating the International Day Against Child Labor on June 12, children in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) were hard at work in the country’s artisanal mines. 40 percent of the two million people working in these mines are children. There are children who attend school in the mornings and work in the mines during the remainder of the day. Others, whose parents are unable to pay the school fees, work all day in the mines from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. Seventy-five percent of children surveyed in the DRC’s artisanal mines are not attending school. The DRC’s Constitution guarantees a free elementary education; but this constitutional provision is ineffective and there are almost no schools in many of the remote mining areas.
The work conditions in the artisanal mines are inhumane. Children use their bare hands and feet to dig, sift, wash and lift heavy loads of minerals. These tasks expose them to high probabilities of being injured or killed. Child miners are also exposed to sicknesses because of their permanent contact with radioactive minerals, or injuries that leave them with life-time disabilities. Mining work is prohibited by the Congolese Labor Code for children under 18. Despite the legal prohibition, there are few initiatives to prevent children from working in the mines, and there are almost no prosecutions against those who employ children or buy minerals coming from child labor.
Minerals extracted by children in the DRC include coltan, cobalt, and copper, among others. Coltan, a mineral of which the DRC has 64% of the world’s reserves, is a fundamental material in the fabrication of modern electronics because of its ability to hold high electric charges. And cobalt is used to produce rechargeable batteries for hybrid electric vehicles, laptops and cell phones.
On June 12, nations commemorated the world day against child labor, but the question posed is what can Americans do for these Congolese child miners?
Three things can be done:
- Have in mind that child mining labor exists and touches your daily lives through the electronic devices that you cherish.
- Create or support efforts of social movements to address the root causes of this problem, including poverty and lack of free education in the mining zones.
- Write to your electronic manufacturers requesting them to map their supply chains and avoid using minerals emanating from child labor.
Your actions, while they may seem small, could have a huge effect for hundreds of thousands of children in the Congo.
Learn more at Roger-Claude Liwanga’s CNN Freedom Project article: Child miners face death for tech.
Source: Cable News Network, Turner Broadcasting System, Inc.