In the Democratic Republic of Congo, meet three young people leaving child mining behind

August 10, 2020
Sewing apprentices cut fabric to make Covid-19 face masks. (Photo: Pact)

Child labor in mining has long been categorized as one of the worst forms of child labor by the International Labour Organization. It is arduous work that exposes children to significant health and safety risks as well as exploitation.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, the biggest driver of child labor in mining is economic need. When a parent falls ill or loses a job, or when there is simply too little money to cover basic necessities, children in DRC’s mining communities often turn to such work as the most readily available solution. Ending child labor in mining means youth must have an alternative.

With many partners, Pact has been working since 2015 to end child labor in DRC’s mines through the Watato Inje Ya Mungoti program, or Children Out of Mining. Children Out of Mining uses a holistic approach to change norms and attitudes about child labor in mining and address its root causes. This includes an apprenticeship program for older children, designed to give them a viable, safer and more stable way to earn income so that they can leave mining work behind. Trades include mechanics, tailoring, carpentry, hairdressing, catering, welding and IT, taught by trained, carefully selected mentors. More than 200 miners between the ages of 15 and 17 have graduated from the six-month apprenticeships, with hundreds more currently enrolled.

So far, the vast majority of the program’s graduates – 98 percent – have chosen not to return to mining. Instead they are running their own businesses, meeting needs in their communities and looking ahead to bright futures.

Madeleine Bunda Kalenga

Photo: Pact

Madeleine Kalenga lives with her mother Cathy in Malemba, in southern DRC. A farmer and a widow, Cathy struggled to cover her family’s needs. There often wasn’t enough money to pay for Madeleine’s school fees, but Madeleine didn’t want to drop out, so she followed friends’ footsteps to a mine site in Kabala when she was just 12 years old. For the next three years, she worked as often as she could, sifting and sorting minerals from sand to earn a small wage.

Now 15, Madeleine enjoys a very different life. She chose sewing as her trade, and after finishing her apprenticeship, she received materials and equipment to start her own business. Her mother – her biggest champion – was her first customer, and she also helped Madeleine pay for marketing services in their village to get her business off the ground.

In addition to making and selling women’s blouse-skirt sets, Madeleine repairs and alters clothing, and she recently started sewing face masks to help her neighbors stop the spread of Covid-19. She recently won a small contract from the local elementary school to sew mask for its sixth grade students. It was a proud milestone for Madeleine, who says she plans never to return to mining.

“My hope for the future is to continue with my studies,” she says, “and to become a great personality in life.”

Francois Kabange Numbi

Photo: Pact

At age 13, Francois began working as a rock crusher at a mine site in Mwanza Seya, DRC, for the same reason that many children do – his family was living in poverty and needed extra money to make ends meet. He recalls working long days under a blazing sun, returning home in the evening with aching hands and 2,000 FC in wages – about $1.

He was 16 when he was offered the opportunity to take part in an apprenticeship through Children Out of Mining. He chose computer science as his trade, studied under a mentor for six months, and then received a computer science kit to start earning income. Francois decided to open a small storefront where he prints documents, makes photocopies, transfers music and sends files for customers. His business is the first of its kind in Mwanza Seya, and his community is grateful to have access to his services. 

His income helps pay for food for his family as well as his school fees. “My dream,” Francois says, “is to graduate, become a great computer scientist, work in an office and take care of my family.”  

Ilunga Kasongo

Photo: Pact

Ilunga began working at a mine site in her village of Katondo after her mother died. Her father, a farmer, earned little for the family, so at age 11, Ilunga began carrying and washing mineralized sand. This was her life for five years, until she began learning to bake through an apprenticeship.

After her training, Ilunga began making bread and doughnuts as well as hot tea to sell in Katondo’s market. She uses her profits to help support her family and to buy more flour, sugar and vegetable oil for her business. She saves whatever is left and already has built up an impressive safety net – something Ilunga never could have dreamed of before. 

Her plan for the future is to open her own restaurant and to become a distributor of bread and beans to local street food vendors.

“I have no reason to return to the mine,” she says. “I have my own business that I am proud of.”