Artisanal mining or mining by hand accounts for just over 20% of the mining operations that are extracting some of these rare minerals. With little government oversight or regulation, the mines can operate without regard for the health or well being of their workers. Many school-aged children are forced to work in these mines to afford their school fees. The kids can be made to work up to 12 hours a day for as little as $1. Without basic tools, safety equipment of even protective clothing, these children are susceptible to chronic illnesses and even death.
In the worst cases, the revenues from the sale of these minerals go to violent armed militia groups. These minerals are referred to as blood minerals or conflict minerals due to the circumstances surrounding their extraction. These groups use the illicit funds to buy weapon and munition to attack government officials and locals, which contribute to even greater unrest. To make matters worst they often conscript children to fight among them to deter the Congolese armed forces and UN peacekeepers. Many of these children will never have the opportunity to achieve an education and are left to live a life below the poverty line.
Some of these rare minerals such as cobalt are what are considered critical minerals. They are an integral component in every rechargeable battery including those in our smartphones. With over 50% of the world’s cobalt originating in the DRC and some 40,000 child miners, there is a possibility that your phone has roots in child labour. A report published by Amnesty International entitled “This is what we die for” implicates companies as large as Apple and Samsung.
Unfortunately, the problem goes even beyond our cellphones. Cobalt is used in every single rechargeable battery. That means tablets, laptops, rechargeable power tools, even electric vehicles contain this mineral. Along with that comes the possibility that somewhere along the supply chain these devices could have involved child labour. This problem can be rather complex and hard to understand but its solution is quite simple. It’s not necessarily a matter of writing your Member of Parliament or boycotting electronics altogether, the answer is as simple as ABC. Education!
The Congo is a developing country and as such the government services are not the most reliable, which includes education. This means that many primary and secondary schools that should otherwise be free, charge have monthly tuition fees in order to cover their operational costs. As a result of this, education has become inaccessible for many students whose families don’t have the means to afford to send them to school. This leaves them vulnerable and with few alternatives, many end up working at a very young age. That is why we here at the Nyantende Foundation work tirelessly to send kids to school in the Nyantnede District of the DRC.
We raise funds to help subsidize the tuition fees for the students who would otherwise not be able to afford it. This only helps keep these students out of child labour but empowers an entire generation in the community of Nyantende.
Without our support, these children would otherwise not have the means to attend school and risk falling prey to child labour. Above this, education helps to empower the children as future change-makers. It gives the knowledge and the ability to help develop their community, and in doing so returns the power to the hands of the Congolese.