Breaking the chain: Child mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo

November 6, 2013

Children as young as 7 years old work eight or more hours a day in the artisanal and small-scale mines that dot the Katanga province of the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is one of the worst forms of child labor, due to the hazardous conditions and strenuous work.

According to a study released by Pact on child mining in Katanga, it is not always poverty that drives these children to the mines. Instead, a complex web of economic and social factors often force Congolese children to work in mines.

The study, entitled Breaking the Chain: Ending the supply of child-mined minerals and funded by the GE Foundation, found young children often first enter the mines to care for an infant sibling while their mothers work, and eventually end up sorting or washing minerals, or selling goods to fellow workers.

As these young children age, they stay in the mines to earn fees for school or pocket money. Other children may be abandoned or orphaned and must work to pay their own way. Marriage before age 18 is common—in Katanga, 82.5 percent of respondents in the study said that girls marry during adolescence. Children who are married or who have become pregnant are expected to earn a living.  The community considers them adults, even when the law says they are still children. 

The report offers concrete solutions for how to address these issues and reduce child labor in mines in Katanga. Recommendations include working at the governmental, community and household levels to prevent child labor, as well as providing assistance to children who are currently working.  Such interventions include strengthening household economics, introducing networks of volunteer child protection officers, providing school lunches, and supporting the DRC government ministries to help them provide child protection services to children working or at risk of working in mines.

Pact has been working to curb child labor in Congo mining communities for more than 10 years. Since 2011, Pact has participated in a due diligence mechanism called iTSCi designed to ensure that the origins of minerals are traceable and compliant with international laws.