Pregnant women and children work in the mines near Kolwezi

children working in the mines of KatangaPROTECTIONThe Lualaba provincial authorities in former Katanga province call on women and children to leave the quarries and mines. This appeal was made at the end of 2016 and is part of the struggle to mobilise those concerned since no viable alternative is made available to them.

Women and children working in the mines of Katanga

The mine inspectors admit their failure with regard to the children and pregnant or breast-feeding women who work in the artisanal mining quarries. The Lualaba provincial government encourages these people to get involved in agriculture, but to no avail. The authorities nevertheless try to protect them against the diseases that are common in the mines.

These women and children are hired for entire days to wash copper and cobalt ore. They use a rope to get the bags filled with ore from the bottom of the shaft. What a chore! Others crush stones to obtain gravel used in construction. These vulnerable persons fear not being able to find other activities to make a living from, if they ever leave the quarries.

The mass layoffs which followed the drop in the copper price in 2016 have destroyed entire households in Kolwezi, the capital of Lualaba province. Women, such as Gisèle Kadiat, have to struggle. ‘’Since my husband lost his job, he spends his time getting drunk. If I stop working in the mines, I would not be able to feed my five children’’, says Gisèle.

Saturday night children

Kolwezi and the surrounding cities are mining centres. That means they are crossroads where expatriates and citizens meet to explore for copper and cobalt. There are also children who come here to work because they play the role of parents to some extent. They provide for their struggling families.

The children born on the mines are often left with their very poor mothers. These are the ‘’Saturday night children’’, as they are called in Kolwezi: children whose fathers have left without a trace. They are sometimes undesirable kids in their families.

The mines: a means of survival for the most vulnerable

Many of these children will also work on the mines, explains one of the gender and family department officials. This department has already reintegrated about twenty street children, the ‘’shegue’’ children, as they are called.

‘’The women no longer go down the mine shafts. If they do, these are very rare cases which are beyond our control, because we cannot be everywhere at the same time. But we have a firm instruction not to allow pregnant or breast-feeding women or children of school going age in the mines anymore. We turn them away every time but they come back. And when they talk about all the difficulties that they face, we sometimes turn a blind eye because they survive with what they earn here’’, explains one of the mine inspectors on condition of anonymity.

To avoid working on the sly, Esther Kayej prefers to crush stones to sell gravel. She cannot take up farming because this requires more time and sacrifices while waiting for a harvest. This work which keeps her in the quarries allows her nevertheless to pay her rent, to provide for her two children and to send them to school.

UNICEF’s work in the mines in Katagna

UNICEF in the DRC promotes the protection of children in the Kolwezi region through the strengthening of protective mechanisms in the community. While putting a strong emphasis on children working in the mines due to the distinctive characteristics of the area, these protective mechanisms in the community allow for various child protection issues to be addressed in this region: violence against children, birth registrations, child marriages, child trafficking, sexual abuse, etc. This programme is managed in partnership with the Social Affairs Division (DIVAS) and focuses on:

– psychosocial support and activities for the children (education and professional training) ;

– community structures for the children supported by community volunteers and social workers

– building the capacity of parents and communities in order for them to take care of children (support for the development of income-generating activities)

– community dialogue frameworks which bring together government, civil society and mining companies working in the community.

More info about children working in the mines

Photo: UNICEF DRC Gulda El Magambo bin Ali

Translated from French by Astrid Gouriten

This article was originally published www.habarirdc.net

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Hervé Mukulu

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