Child Labour in Mining
“I am collecting blocks with green colour for my mother. …. [but when I grow up] I want to be a tailor.” – Dorcas, 6, who mines for copper and cobalt in the Democratic Republic of Congo with her mother and six siblings.
Dorcas works with her mother and six siblings in an artisanal mine in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Her father is very ill, so her mother supports the family. There is no child care available, so her mother brings the children to the mine as babies. Dorcas, now 6, works at the mine every day for at least a few hours, and all day when she is not in school.
The family has a particular spot in an open rocky area where they dig for minerals. Dorcas’ mother and the older children dig and break up the rocks, which they stockpile for the day. At the end of the day, water is let in from the river to flow to the different work areas. Dorcas’ mother washes the rocks and the children sort through the pieces, collecting those which show green.
Dorcas has little knowledge of the minerals—she just knows to collect “blocks with green colour.” In fact, she is sorting copper and cobalt, likely with radioactive uranium mixed in. Her body is absorbing these minerals. One of her brothers is at home alone because he has a painful skin irritation. Another brother is developing the same condition.
The family collects around three cubic feet of rock with minerals on a very good day. They can sell it for $2 or $5. This must cover all their living expenses and school fees.
Dorcas has just begun school and is learning to write her name. Her dream is to be a tailor.
Dorcas’ mom has dreams too. She wants to get her children and herself out of mining. She knows her children are experiencing health problems. She would love to start a small business selling things like food, soap, and salt. But she doesn’t have the cash to start a business, and has too much responsibility for her children’s food and school fees to take a chance.
Mining and Children in DRC
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is rich in resources, with many mines across the country. Often the small mining operations are artisanal mines, meaning the people who work there are not employed by a company. They are independent workers trying to scrape out a living. Many are children.
About 14% of the country’s population—8 to 10 million people—rely on artisanal mining for their livelihood, with roughly 2 million working directly as miners.
Artisanal miners use their hands, hammers, chisels, picks, shovels, and some kind of sorting system, usually involving water. Some miners work on the surface picking through rocks on a riverbed or leftovers from a mine. Some work underground or in pit mines. They face health risks and dangers from handling minerals, digging tunnels and diving into wells.
In some parts of DRC, up to 40% of artisanal miners are children like Dorcas. Mining is one of the most hazardous forms of child labour. Some child miners are killed by cave-ins, explosions and drowning. Others are permanently damaged by heavy lifting and by chemicals and metals seeping into their bodies. While some children work as miners, others work in jobs supporting miners, such as domestic service or selling goods—and these jobs also carry risks.
[dropdown_box expand_text="" show_more="READ MORE" show_less="COLLAPSE" start="hide"]
Children mining = hazardous labour
Hazardous labour is work that is dirty, dangerous and degrading – the 3D’s. Globally, the main industries where children are employed in hazardous labour are agriculture, fishing, manufacturing, construction, the service sector, domestic service, and mining. Sub-Saharan Africa has the largest proportion of children involved in hazardous work.
It is difficult to know how many children work as miners, because:
- Numbers are undocumented, since it is generally illegal to employ children in mining
- Areas where artisanal mining happens are often remote and miners move around a lot.
- The number of people employed in mining, including children, fluctuates based on the world price of minerals
The best estimates are that 1 million children worldwide work in mining. Child miners can be found in Africa, Asia-Pacific, South and Central America, and Europe, mining everything from gold to gravel.
Children are involved in mining for many reasons, such as:
- To help parents who are miners. Working with parents can be part of children’s life-learning and support they give to the family. However, mining can be particularly unsafe for children.
- To earn money for food to supplement the one daily meal they have at home.
- To earn money to feed siblings or families, when parents are unable to work or have died of disease or an AIDS-related illness.
- To have something to do while earning a little money.
When no child care is available, very young children sometimes accompany parents to the mining site. In fact, babies are often on their mothers’ backs while mom is mining.
The risks of child labour
Working in hazardous jobs hurts children’s health and well-being.
For example, when children harvest tobacco, they absorb nicotine through their skin, are exposed to pesticides, and risk being injured or killed by farm equipment.
Mining is one of the worst forms of child labour. Children face significant short- and long-term risks to their health and well-being:
- They could fall down a mine shaft, become trapped in collapsing tunnels, or drown while mining underwater.
- Heavy work can injure and permanently damage a growing child’s bones and muscles.
- Minerals mined in DRC are hazardous to health. Cobalt, for example, can damage the heart, thyroid and lungs. In one study, cobalt was found in 87% of children living close to a mining site. The study showed far higher levels of toxic metals in children compared to adults, even though they had less direct exposure to the metals.
- In the Southern DRC, uranium is often found alongside copper and cobalt. Child miners may be directly exposed to this radioactive mineral.
- Girls and boys do similar tasks at mining sites, but girls often have to do housework too. Girls are more likely to be targets of abuse, including being coaxed or forced into prostitution.
- Children selling food and supplies to miners and their families are at risk of being beaten, abused, or exploited. Alcohol and drug abuse, violence, and prostitution are common in these remote areas, and children may not be protected or safe.
- Children who experience abuse or suffer from work-related illness or injury often have little access to health clinics or social services.
- Many child miners are malnourished. Their weakened state, combined with hard physical labour in difficult and hot conditions, can result in illness.
- Finally, child miners who attend school often drop out early due to the need to earn money and the exhausting nature of the work. This significantly compromises their future opportunities for better, safer work.
How can child mining be stopped?
Laws exist to monitor or stop child mining. However, the bigger challenges are lack of enforcement and limited awareness about the involvement of children in mining.
The DRC has some of the better laws regulating artisanal mining in Sub-Saharan Africa, but the country is very poor and unable to hire enough officials to enforce the law. As a result, artisanal mining is not closely monitored. Little is known about the extent of child labour in mining or the injuries, fatalities, and health problems of these children.
At the same time, simply enforcing laws to keep children out of mining doesn’t solve the underlying poverty challenge. So many Congolese families struggle to meet basic needs for food, health care, and education. Many rely on artisanal mining because alternative, safe, well-paying jobs are scarce. It is in this complex reality that children take on mining work. They and their parents are often unaware of the hidden dangers.
To prevent children from mining requires working with them, their families, and their communities to deal with the causes and consequences of the situation. Enforcing child labour laws is part of the solution. Communities also need to know the dangers facing children in mining work, and they need support to address their needs for food, health care, education and livelihoods.
What is World Vision doing?
World Vision is taking a close look at the impact of industrial mining and artisanal mining in the Congolese communities where we work. Nearly half of these communities have artisanal mining nearby. We are exploring how we can address this challenge in our programs and our advocacy strategies.
Our Help Wanted – End Child Slavery campaign will include actions individuals can take to help prevent children from working in 3D jobs – dirty, dangerous and degrading. To be part of the campaign take our current action and join Voices for Children to get updates on new actions that are part of this campaign.
To learn more, click here.
 World Bank (2008). Democratic Republic of Congo Growth with Governance In the Mining Sector. Washington, DC: World Bank.
 Pact Inc. (2010). PROMINES Study: Artisanal Mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Washington, DC: Pact Inc.
 3D jobs are most often undertaken by migrants or trafficked persons. They are jobs which local people do not want to do, often because they are literally dirty, dangerous or degrading. Local people can also undertake these jobs because they have no other means of employment where they live.
World Health Organization. 1999. Guidelines for drinking-water quality. Health criteria and other supporting information. 2: 132-388 , 941-949.
 Banza C.L.N., Nawrot T.S., Haufroid V., Decree S., Putter T. De, Smolders E., Kabyla B.I., Luboya, O.N., Ilunga A.N., Mutombo A.M., and Nemery B. 2009. High human exposure to cobalt and other metals in Katanga, a mining area of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Environmental Research 109: 745-752.
 Ivory Consult, 2011. Integrated Environmental Assessment in Southern Katanga Province of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Unpublished, World Vision DRC.