2 Jun 2022


The Child Laborers of the Congo Mining Industry

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Academic level: College

Paper type: Research Paper

Words: 1710

Pages: 6

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The Democratic Republic of the Congo, otherwise called the DRC, has a rich mining resource base, which includes over 1100 known minerals and precious metals. The country has the potential to be among the richest in Africa with its resources and guarantee better life to its citizenry, including the children. Despite the abundance of minerals, the nation faces a poverty endemic, which has undermined the wellbeing of its people. Mining companies, which are often foreign-controlled, exploit the populace for cheap labor to mine the minerals, which they often sell to markets abroad. Children are among the leading sources of the cheap labor in the country, and despite many calls on the country to intervene the situation, its children continue laboring on cobalt mines. The current paper contextualizes the plight of child laborers on DRC’s cobalt mines. Specifically, the essay describes the origin of the problem, the strategies that have been applied to deal with it, and the repression that the affected group faces. The author also provides a commentary on the relationship between the struggles of child laborers and sociological theories and concepts. 

The Origins of Child Labor on DRC’s Cobalt Mines and the Current State 

The history of the institution of child labor on Congolese cobalt mines is long, and it dates back to the country’s imperial occupation with some specific modifying factors that have change the dynamism of the global economy. The U.S. Department of labor conducted a study on the use of child labor on mines in the DRC in 2015, and established that most of the mines that use children as laborers are owned and controlled by rebel groups (Mutasa, 2020). The militias engage have been involved in a conflict with the national government for the control of resources from the country for several decades now. According to a further review of the extant literature, the disorderliness experience in the region has its foundation in the imperialist and capitalistic influences of Europe and the West, which create a demand for Congo’s minerals (CBS News, 2018). So to say, most of the minerals that the country produces do not benefit its economy because they are exported to the industrialized world where that are used in different industries as the raw material in the production of a wide range of products. 

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King Leopold II of Belgium founded the Congo Free State in 1885 as a personal colony. The King made money from the colony first through hunting ivory and later by the extraction of rubber (Haywood, 2017). Interestingly, the King amassed significant amounts of wealth through forced labor, and it is approximated that more than fifteen million Congolese slaves died under his brutal reign. The colony remained under Belgian control until it attained its independence in 1960, which saw the election of Patrice Lumumba, the nation’s first democratically elected leader (Haywood, 2017). American imperialists were unhappy with the rise to power of Lumumba because he had pledged that he would use the nation’s vast resource base for the benefit of its people, the latter cited literature asserts. Consequently, the CIA, working in close collaboration with Belgium, masterminded the removal of Lumumba from power in the favor of Joseph Mobutu, whose tenure exposed Congolese people under brutal dictatorship (Haywood, 2017). The problems of the Congo began worsening. 

Authorities arrested Patrice Lumumba before taking him out of prison before killing him. Europe and Washington enjoyed the thirty-year dictatorship of Mobutu that followed an enjoyable spell because the leader was willing to plunder his country’s resources and continue the exploitation of workers. For over fifty years, starting from the Mobutu reign, through the Congolese War of the 90s, and up to the recent civil strife in the country, the West has been influencing activities in the mineral industry of the DRC. Therefore, while the country is independent, the shadows of neocolonialism linger. Precisely, European and American countries continue exploiting the Congo for its resources, and child labor has become the most common way of producing such minerals cheaply. The current endemic of child labor in the Congo exemplifies capitalism’s utter failure to cause progressive ventures for the improvement of humanity. The ghost of the King of Belgium continues haunting the DRC because everyone in the West is hungry to tap the resources because of their significance in the creation of capital. 

Currently, reports suggest that there are between 125 and 150 foreign and local non-state armed militia and groups in the Congo (The Borgen Project, 2018). Some of the groups continue abducting and recruiting children for use in war and of course, for child labor on the mines. Many mining regions, which are principally located to the Eastern region of the country (in Katanga and North Kivu), employ a large number of child laborers. One of the reviewed studies suggests that children make up as much as forty percent of the mineworkers in Katanga and Copperbelt. The involvement of children in the labor force of the country has significantly undermined their educational development. For instance, a 2014 report indicated that close to 40,000 of Congolese children were employed on cobalt mines around the country, which jeopardized their pursuit for education ( Child labor in the mines of the Democratic Republic of Congo , 2016). Consequently, one can argue that the child labor status of the Congo has had a toll on its economic development through hindering economic development. 

Strategies that the DRC has adopted to Fight Child Labor and the Repressions Faced 

The DRC is yet to make significant steps towards fighting child labor on its mines. Currently, the country adopts legislative and educational strategies in fighting the menace of child labor. For instance, the government threatens militia and other groups who involve in child labor with prosecution (US Department of Labor, 2018). In 2018, for example, it tried and convicted two former rebel leaders for war crimes, which included recruiting and using children in forced labor and armed conflict, the latter study reports. However, it is feared that some government officials could be colluding with the mine owners and rebels to prevent any potential consequences, which keeps large numbers of children in employment. The nation’s Ministry of Mines also installed programs that would track and report the possibilities of children being used on the mines. Officials from the government also undertake impromptu checks at some mines to assess the situation of child labor, but they have mostly been ineffective in arresting the perpetrators because of corruption and other impediments to justice (US Department of Labor, 2018). 

The DRC has also strived to prioritize education through making primary education free in the hope that schooling will keep most of the children out of laboring on the mines. However, despite being free, primary education is not universal, and in some places, the children are required to pay fees, which they often cannot afford. Some of them report that they go to work on the mines because they would like to raise enough money to pay for their school fees (US Department of Labor, 2018). Therefore, the educational method of keeping children out of forced and cheap labor has not been successful. Table 1 indicates the statistics on education and work engagement among children in the country. As the table indicates, a significant proportion of the children population does not go to school while a larger percentage of them attend school, yet they still work on mines around the country. The statistics, therefore, reveal that the country has not been successful with its strategy to keep children from employment. 

Table 1 : the balance of children in Congo between education and laboring on mines, adapted from The US Department of Labor (2018) 

A Sociological Interpretation of the Experiences of Child Laborers 

The Concepts of Imperialism and Globalization 

The explained discourse of child labor in the DRC can be interpreted in the imperialistic and globalization concepts of sociology. One notes already that the challenges that the country experiences have origins in its imperialistic past under Belgian rule. The King of Belgium subjected the country to forced labor and introduced the concept of exploitation of natural resources for the beneficence of a small group of people. After the King’s regime declined, neocolonialism set into play. European countries, as did the United States, began corrupting the political regime of the young Congo, which had attained its independence in 1960. Importantly, imperialism introduced the concept of capitalism, which is a Marxist ideology that glorifies the regulation of capital and other economic resources by a small group of people who then control the economy. In capitalistic economies, the rich attempt to exploit the poor as they seek to accumulate wealth and become relevant in the society. The exploitation always comes as capitalists strive to keep their costs of capital creation as low as possible so that they can maximize their profit margins. From this sociological perspective, therefore, it can be understood that child labor is a means of lowering the cost of capital creation for the capitalists as they seek to make profits from economic resources of the DRC. 

Foreign interference in the affairs of the Congo goes beyond the imperialistic perspective, and they encompass the aspect of globalization. European and American businesses understand the value of the minerals sourced from the DRC to their profitability, which is why they include the country in their supply chain. Specifically, globalization has opened up the economy of the Congo to the rest of the world, which has raised the demand for its mineral resources. Forced child labor, therefore, is one of the means of increasing the production of mineral ores that would meet the global demand for them across the world. 

A Theoretical Perspective 

While different theories could amply describe the plight of children in the Congolese context, this paper chooses the social habitability model. The theory holds that the nature and extent to which children are maltreated, such as the case with child labor, depends on the environmental contexts in which such children and their families developed (Sunandamma, 2014). Importantly, the theory attempts to describe the suffering of children in Congo because of child labor in the context of the country’s political, social, and economic history. As discussed throughout this paper, the DRC has a history of oppression, which dates back to its imperialistic occupation by Belgium. The King set pre-conditions that have continued affecting societal life in the country, including looting, forced labor, and other forms of social malpractices. Therefore, one infers that Congolese children found forced labor in existence, and that they currently suffer the consequences of their familial contexts. The theory also attempts to explain why despite their suffering, only so much has been done to alleviate their predicament. In this case, it is thought that the DRC lacks appropriate support structures that would be useful in reversing the conditions that its imperial masters and globalization have created on the children and the rest of the population. 


CBS News. (2018). CBS News finds children mining cobalt for batteries in the Congo . Retrieved 22 February 2020, from https://www.cbsnews.com/news/cobalt-children-mining-democratic-republic-congo-cbs-news-investigation/ 

Child labor in the mines of the Democratic Republic of Congo. (2016). Retrieved 22 February 2020, from https://www.humanium.org/en/child-labor-in-the-mines-of-the-democratic-republic-of-congo/ 

Haywood, E. (2017). Reports expose widespread use of child labor in the Congo. Retrieved 22 February 2020, from https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/03/23/cong-m23.html 

Mutasa, H. (2020). DRC child labour: Mining companies accused of exploitation . Retrieved 22 February 2020, from https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/01/drc-child-labour-mining-companies-accused-exploitation-200104104948017.html 

Sunandamma, M. P. (2014). Child Labour-Social and Economic Realities Which Effecting Child Development.  International Journal of Scientific and Research Publications 4 (1), 1-4 . 

The Borgen Project (2018). Poverty & Child Laborers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo | Retrieved 22 February 2020, from https://borgenproject.org/poverty-child-laborers-in-the-democratic-republic-of-the-congo/ 

U.S. Department of Labor. (2018). Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor - Democratic Republic of the Congo . Retrieved 22 February 2020, from https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/congo-democratic-republic-drc 

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