Washington [US], July 18 (ANI): China was found exploiting 40,000 child workers in cobalt mines of Congo and witnesses testified about the child labour at a congressional hearing on human rights violations, entitled “Child Labour and Human Rights Violations in the Mining Industry of the Democratic Republic of Congo”.
Zelda Caldwell, writing in Catholic News Agency said that China is forcing children to work under hazardous conditions to mine the cobalt that powers electronic devices and electric cars.
“On the backs of trafficked workers and child labourers, China exploits the vast cobalt resources of the DRC to fuel its economy and global agenda,” said Rep Christopher Smith, R-New Jersey, who chaired the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission hearing on July 14.
China is the major foreign player in the DCR’s mining industry. As of 2019, China imported 83 per cent of its cobalt and 9 per cent of its refined copper and copper alloys from the DRC, and Chinese companies reportedly control the majority of the DRC’s copper and cobalt mining projects and output, according to a report in the Globe and Mail.
“The Chinese Communist Party’s quest for cobalt for batteries and lithium for solar panels to power the so-called Green Economy motivates human rapacity as an estimated 40,000 children in Congo toil in non-regulated artisanal mines under hazardous conditions,” Smith said.
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) produces more than 70 per cent of the world’s cobalt, 15 per cent to 30 per cent of which is produced in artisanal mines. For years, these small-scale operations have been notorious for human rights violations.
The Council on Foreign Relations attributes the inhumane working conditions, in part, to the instability of the DRC, “a country weakened by violent ethnic conflict, Ebola, and high levels of corruption,” reported Caldwell.
Congolese civil rights attorney Herve Diakiese Kyungu testified at the hearing that children are trafficked and exploited because of their small size.
The artisanal mines “are often no more than narrow shafts dug into the ground, which is why children are recruited — and in many cases forced — to descend into them, using only their hands or rudimentary tools without any protective equipment, to extract cobalt and other minerals,” he said.
Children are often exposed to radioactive minerals, injuries, and deadly and painful diseases as they work to extract the valuable ore, reported Catholic News Agency.
“They are unremunerated and exploited and the work is often fatal as the children are required to crawl into small holes dug into the earth,” Kyungu testified.
Chinese representatives are not passive investors, but are on site, overseeing the operations, he said.
He described an incident in which “two persons identified as Chinese citizen[s] … instructed two Congolese military officers to whip two Congolese who were found on their site.” The whipping, which was captured on video and shared on the internet, demonstrates the cooperation between Chinese companies and DCR government officials, he said.
Father Rigobert Minani Bihuzo, a Catholic priest who has worked to expose child labour and human rights violations in the DRC’s mining sector, testified to the dangerous working condition at the mines.
“They work seven days a week and more than 12 hours a day,” he said. Using tools like hammers, chisels, and spades, their working conditions are like that of slavery, he said. Injuries are common, and for those who are hurt or become sick, the lack of medical care means “the majority will die due to various untreated illnesses,” he said. (ANI)