Child miners face death for tech
A young worker at one of the mineral mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
June 26th, 2013
07:51 PM ET

Child miners face death for tech

By Roger-Claude Liwanga, Special for CNN
Editor’s note: Roger-Claude Liwanga is a human rights lawyer from the Congo and visiting scholar at Boston University. He worked for The Carter Center as a legal consultant, where he developed a training module to train Congolese judges and prosecutors on the protection of children against trafficking for economic exploitation in the mines. He is also the co-founder and executive director of Promote Congo, and is currently directing and producing a short documentary, “Children of the Mines,” which will be launched shortly in Boston. He writes in his personal capacity.

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. Out of two million people working in the DRC’s artisanal mines, 40 percent of them are children.

Six months ago, I met a boy I will call Lukoji in the mine washing site of Dilala near the DRC’s Kolwezi city.

When I first saw him, the seven-year- old was sifting and washing heterogenite, an ore rich in cobalt and copper minerals.  He told me: “I began working in the mines when I was five”. He works along with his two brothers who are 12 and 13 years old.

Lukoji only works in the afternoon because he goes to school in the morning. Unlike him, his siblings are school dropouts and work all day in the mine from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. Lukoji’s brothers abandoned school because their unemployed parents were unable to pay the school fees for all of Lukoji’s siblings.

Seventy-five percent of children surveyed in the DRC’s artisanal mines are dropouts. 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.

Lukoji’s story is common in the mining sites in DRC. I met many children like Lukoji, children who get involved in mining mostly due to poverty and the lack of alternate opportunities in mining regions.

Lukoji works together with his brothers to increase their profits. There are also children who work for middlemen, such as mine traders or mine owners. These middlemen supply children with tools and cash advances, and in exchange, they force children to sell them their minerals at very low prices. The children’s earnings range from $0.75 to $3 a day, which they use to buy food, clothes and shoes, or towards school fees.

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.

Many children get killed in soil collapses, which occur when they extract minerals from deep and narrow holes. The average number of child deaths from soil collapses in the DRC’s province of Katanga alone is about 6.6 per month. In a sample of 63 children interviewed in artisanal mining sites near the cities of Kolwezi, Likasi and Lubumbashi, 20 percent said that at least one of their family members or friends had died in the mine in the last three years.

Child miners are also exposed to sicknesses because of their permanent contact with radioactive minerals, or injuries that leave them with life-time disabilities.

In an open pit mine at Kapata, I met a former child miner, named Tela, 19, who told me that he walks with a limp because a big stone fell on his right leg and broke it while he was extracting minerals five years ago.

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.

Many children that I interviewed did not know the final purpose and destination of the minerals they extract.

I asked Lukoji to tell me what was the final destination of the cobalt and copper minerals that he was sifting and cleaning? He innocently pointed his index finger towards the mining depots located around the mines and owned principally by the Chinese.

What Lukoji was unaware of was that the minerals extracted by children are later exported from the Congo to Asia for refining.[1] From Asia, they are sold on the world market and purchased by electronic and automobile manufacturers located primarily in developed countries, including the United States.

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.

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Topics: How to Help • Technology • Uncategorized

soundoff (45 Responses)
  1. James

    Legal action should be taken for those who recruit children!

    June 27, 2013 at 10:24 am | Reply
  2. grestmon

    I find it a bit hypocritical that the person who wrote this story, used that very same technology to write AND submit this story to CNN. The photo in this story was also taken using those same minerals and technology that children are dying for. But so is that way of the world, I guess.

    June 27, 2013 at 3:54 pm | Reply
    • nhtadmin

      That is tantamount to stating you are pro slavery when almost everything you own that uses electricity, from lightbulbs to your car key fob, and much of your clothing, food and transportation is slave-tainted.

      The person who wrote this story is from this area. He took the photos, risking his life. He became a lawyer and is working to change the laws to stop this practice. He's already changing his country and teaching many people like you. What are you doing?

      June 29, 2013 at 3:48 pm | Reply
      • ypg_193244


        December 1, 2016 at 5:21 pm |
    • ypg_193244

      well let me ask you, were you able to type your response to this article? You are using the same minerals that I am using that the man who wrote this article used so instead pf trying to contradict what the author was saying, try to do something to help. Just sitting around and criticizing what this man wrote, which I think was great, doesn't do anything to solve the problem.

      December 1, 2016 at 5:20 pm | Reply
  3. CongoWarResource

    Learn more:

    June 27, 2013 at 9:09 pm | Reply
  4. Lawyer

    This is such an important issue. Hopefully readers realize that the point is not that we should not use technology, but that we she should ensure that minerals are being mined ethically and responsibly. To do that, we must encourage people to put pressure on politicians and electronics manufacturers, such as the article explains.

    June 28, 2013 at 8:22 am | Reply
    • Leopoldville

      I agree with you, Lawyer. People should put pressure on electronics manufacturers to trace the minerals that they use in their products.

      In July 2010, President Obama signed into law Section 1502 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (also known as US Conflict Minerals Law), which requires US companies to disclose to SEC their use of conflict minerals that originates the DRC. But the scope of this Law is narrow to the extent that it does only cover the disclosure of the DRC's conflict minerals rather than child labor minerals.

      So, it is important for people to request their electronics manufacturers to trace their supply chains to ensure that their products are CHILD LABOR FREE.

      June 29, 2013 at 11:28 am | Reply
  5. Omphile Serameng

    Advising people who hv Aids nd other illness to stop spreading thm coz tht evil nd suicide bomers to stop such practices

    July 2, 2013 at 11:39 pm | Reply
    • Blackfish

      What sort of utterly stupidity are you ranting about? 1) Learn proper spelling and grammar. 2) Learn to formulate a thought and argument that makes sense and is germane to the subject at hand. 3) Failing #'s 1 and 2, stay off the internet before you hurt yourself.

      July 4, 2013 at 4:36 am | Reply
      • Vanessa

        You are very rude. This is about children not grammar. By the way, this person is probably not an avid English speaker, did you ever think of that?

        September 10, 2014 at 9:00 pm |

    The company buying the mineurals should stop doing so, and tell the congoles gorvment to act if they want there mineural to be bougth !!!

    July 3, 2013 at 10:00 am | Reply
  7. Isidore

    This Article is really ambitious and deserve a great attention. The abuse of Child in the sector of Mine exploitation is a massive violation of the international legislation. It is important also to point out the responsability of Multinational companies owners of mine concessions and complice of Human Rights Violations.
    It urgent to raise awareness at the local and international level, to develop a litigation culture and to improve the education of local people.

    July 9, 2013 at 6:07 pm | Reply
  8. dennis

    It's very unfortunate, but all this are happening due to poverty and it must be stoped.

    July 11, 2013 at 5:35 am | Reply
  9. upliftedsa

    Reblogged this on Uplifted Life and commented:
    #TheBroomNelsonMandelaDay, Work for change and save a dying world...

    July 18, 2013 at 10:59 am | Reply
  10. Hassan

    Really i think no humantrafficer

    July 20, 2013 at 5:34 pm | Reply

    August 13, 2013 at 10:00 pm | Reply
  12. Tjizakuye tjirunga

    Action must taken for those recruiting miners. What type of work will a 7 year old do seriously this is madness.theres no future for africa if this continue he should have been a lawyer or minister who knows

    August 17, 2013 at 2:36 pm | Reply
  13. Brian

    Since this article has to to with Congo, I was wondering why there isn't a whole lot of attention about the war and millions dead caused by the violence and mass genocide (and then exodus ) that happened in Rwanda? Trafficking is the tip of the iceberg when considering the many going wihtou aid because it is too violent in Congo (or the Democratic Republic of Congo) to have a huge non-military presence. And most of the aid goes to fighters attempting to do genocide still or war against other nations.

    September 13, 2013 at 3:34 am | Reply
  14. BIG HOSS

    i love it!

    November 4, 2014 at 2:37 pm | Reply
  15. Kony

    give me the children plz

    November 4, 2014 at 2:40 pm | Reply
  16. lola

    Amazing, it gave me loads of information and moved my perspective for technology. It will also help me with my fifth grade essay.

    December 9, 2014 at 9:00 pm | Reply
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    January 4, 2015 at 11:09 am | Reply

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