Working to survive: the sad story of Pascal and Gratien

Photo: UNICEF RDC Piton

During a visit to Komanda, located 75 kilometers southwest of Bunia, in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), I met two young boys who were busy picking up plastic bottles in the streets of this shopping centre. Pascal (9 years old) and Gratien (12 years old) are two brothers orphans of father.

“It’s been three years since we are not going to school with my brother following the death of our father. We were in the fourth grade, but we could not afford to pay the fees anymore.” Since they stopped going to school, the two brothers criss-cross the streets of Komanda to pick up empty bottles thrown by the passers-by to resell them afterwards. “By chance, we sell each bottle for 200 Congolese francs to fuel sellers.”

Every day the two boys spend hours walking to pick up as many bottles as possible. “We jealously guard the little money we earn because it is thanks to this money that we sometimes buy clothes and slippers”. When the mother of the two boys does not manage to pull out vegetable from the field, the money earned from the bottle sale is also used to buy food.

The collection of bottles is not the only activity of the two brothers. “When there are not enough bottles in the streets of Komanda, we search the ground for any kind of iron. We sell it to buyers who take it back to neighbouring Uganda.” It takes one to three days to collect a kilogram of iron. Each kilo can yield up to 1,000 Congolese Francs.

We work so we do not have to steal.

The two brothers have no hope of going back to school. “Unless the money falls from the sky, we do not have enough money to pay school fees.”

Child labour in DRC: every child must be protected

Children are not as strong as adults and they are not yet capable of defending themselves. Through its article 32, the Convention on the Rights of the Child aims to protect all children against exploitation and any work that harms their health. In the DRC, the minimum age for work is 16, and the law prohibits all forms of hazardous child labour. However, as they criss-cross the streets and search the floor for iron, children may endanger themselves. For example, they may be injured with rusty iron and develop an infection. Pascal and Gratien know the risks they run but they have no choice if they want to eat every day and get dressed properly.

The State is responsible for children’s rights. It is necessary to put in place all possible measures to give hope to these children, who no longer believe in the future. The State must ensure the effectiveness of free primary school. Pascal, Gratien and all the children need to go to school to prepare their future.

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Translated from French by Mariana Santos

Firstly published in September 2018

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Ephraïm, 17 ans, est Enfant Reporter de la Province de l’Ituri. Passionné par la défense les droits de ses pair, il voudrait devenir un professeur d’Université. Pour lui, tout le monde doit se sentir concerné par de la protection de droits de l’enfant.

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