Child labour in artisanal mines and quarries in the Democratic Republic of Congo remains a major challenge. The Congolese government has committed to eradicating child labour but resources are limited to tackle a problem of this scale. No quantitative study has yet provided precise numbers of children involved, but estimates made in 2012 put the number of children working in artisanal mines at around 40,000, a large proportion of whom can be found in the copper belt of Haut-Katanga and in Lualaba Province.
The village of Luisha in Kambove territory, Haut-Katanga Province, is one of these regions where children can be found in artisanal mines. They constitute a cheap and easily exploitable workforce. Their size allows them to go down into those pits which are harder for adults to access. They also undertake the washing, sorting and transport of the minerals. This situation is a flagrant violation of international conventions on the protection of children as well as national laws.
What Akim brought home to his family made a big difference
Akim* is the eldest in his family. He admits to having started working in the artisanal mines due to his family’s financial situation. His parents also work in the mines, but their income is not sufficient to put food on the table for a large family with 5 children, and still less to meet their health and educational requirements.
What Akim brought home to his family therefore made a big difference to the family’s diet, even if it was far from enough to send his brothers and sisters to school. So, he set out bravely to the mines every day and worked as hard as he could to bring something home.
He was frequently ill but was always able to recover sufficiently to continue his work in the mines. He was also witness on numerous occasions to injuries suffered by colleagues of his age, who were working in the mines for the same reasons as him. Akim was soon afforded practically the same privileges as the adults, which deprived him of his right to a childhood.
A future still accessible
Akim still had dreams, however. He hoped to return to school and become a doctor ! Thanks to the UNICEF’s intervention, Akim seems to be getting closer to his dream : he left the mines and is enrolled in a community school.
To ensure that his education would continue long term, his parents were invited to join other parents in forming associations which would work in concert with the Community Child Protection Network (RECOPE). They grow maize and undertake market gardening on 3 of the 100 hectares of ground provided to them by local authorities.
Thanks to this, Akim’s parents have been able to continue paying his school fees, and also enrol the other children in school ! They are still working in the artisanal mines, but are happy that their children are able to escape what they describe as hellish work.
Akim is extremely happy but is troubled to know that lots of his young compatriots are still in the mines in Luisha . He asks for the intervention of the Government, of significant figures in civil society and of the mining companies, so that the children of Luisha can quit the mines and go to school !
Everyone has a dream and everyone has the right to their dream
UNICEF’s work in the mines in Katagna
UNICEF DRC promotes the protection of children in Haut-Katanga Province through the strengthening of protective mechanisms in the community. While putting a strong emphasis on children working in the mines due to the distinctive characteristics of the area, these protective mechanisms in the community allow for various child protection issues to be addressed in this region: violence against children, birth registrations, child marriages, child trafficking, sexual abuse, etc.
This programme is managed in partnership with the Social Affairs Division (DIVAS) and funded by Swiss Natcom and UNICEF’s regular resources.