Keeping children out of mineral supply chains

May 11, 2016

The sun is high and blistering down on a sparse landscape. Sounds of hammers and picks are constant throughout the hot day. People come and go, hauling heavy sacks of rocks from pits and tunnels to be crushed, washed and sold.

This is life at an artisanal mine in the Katanga province of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Despite the hazardous work and tough conditions, millions of people around the world choose to take up a pick and dig for minerals to make a living. It is one of the hardest jobs anyone can do, yet it offers the prospect of real economic benefits for the men and women who choose it.

But for the children in Katanga’s mines, it isn’t a choice. One of the worst forms of child labor, it robs them of their childhood, risking their physical and mental development and making them more vulnerable to exploitation.

For more than 10 years, Pact has been working in Congo’s mining communities to improve the lives of artisanal miners and their families. In 2011, we undertook a two-year research study to understand the factors that drive children to the mines in Katanga, despite its being illegal.

We learned that it is a complex situation with no single cause or solution.

Based on the research findings, we designed a multifaceted project that aimed to address the various economic and socio-cultural issues that lead to child labor in mining. Over the last two years, Pact has been implementing this project hand-in-hand with our local partners.

Today, we’re excited to share the results of that work through a report, Children Out of Mining.

While we’ve seen a significant decrease in child labor at the sites where we work – a decrease of 89 percent – we know that more work is ahead of us. We need to address some of the deep-rooted economic and socio-cultural factors that one cannot hope to accomplish in a short matter of time.

Katanga has a long history of artisanal mining. Historic dependency on the sector has made it a central part of families’ livelihoods. Supporting economic diversification is a critical component of a successful, long-lasting approach. It will require partnerships from across the development sphere – from local governments and civil society to multinational bodies like the United Nations and World Bank. Improving community members’ knowledge of the harms of child labor and providing educational opportunities will not prevail without broadening the region’s economic options.

This project has shown us that we can have a positive impact on the lives of children in mining communities. The interventions are applicable across many types of mines – tin, tantalum, cobalt, copper, gold, and more – and can be used in other geographic areas. Pact is dedicated to continuing this work with our partners on the ground and across the world. Our hope is that one day, the sights and sounds of an artisanal mine site will not include those of children’s faces and voices.

Download the report, Children Out of Mining, from our resource library.