The scourge of child labor has always existed, but the deep-rooted exploitation is increasing in the ongoing emergency generated by Coronavirus.
One example is in Kolwezi, Democratic Republic of Congo, where coronavirus has sent thousands of children back into the cobalt mines. They do slave labor to help their families who are on their knees due to the economic crisis and the drop in salaries because of the pandemic. Eighty percent of strategic minerals on the world market come from this area. And thousands of families moved here, initially often running from military violence and now also for necessity.
In the last two months alone, about 200 thousand people have abandoned their homes. Minors are exploited at low wages to sift and clean the minerals necessary for our cellphones, tablets, computers and electric cars to work.
According to UNICEF, an estimated 40,000 children work illegally, even 14-hour days, in the rocks, immersed in polluted water, in order to transport the minerals to China that, needless to say, has the monopoly.
Families don’t send their children to school because they need their help to survive, therefore, women and children, often mother and child, sift and clean the cobalt without masks or gloves and are exposed to an elevated risk of respiratory diseases and serious urinary tract infections. In many children, the quantity of cobalt found in their urine is ten times higher than average.
Therefore, there is an elevated risk of illness, with the added terror that the military will take control of the mines. And as mineral prices decrease, the risk of exploitation rises.
Exploitation, disease and war. The Children of the Democratic Republic of the Congo may never have a future.