Why Is Child Labor Mining so Prevalent in Africa?

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is a major offender of child labor mining. Congolese activists who are working to end the abuse say there are about 10,000 children working in the country’s mines.1 Cobalt mining is key to the economy in the country as it produces an estimated 65 percent of the world’s cobalt supply. Cobalt is used in many ways worldwide, especially in batteries and aircraft engine parts.

Many poor families see mining as their chance to escape the poverty that has permeated their family for generations. They see child labor as a reliable source of family income. In their minds, they have no other options to provide food for their families.

However, these mines are dangerous places for children, who are susceptible to falling down the shafts, being trapped, having physical problems like persistent coughs, or very serious injuries. Girls have reported genital infections due to standing in deep acidic water.

An article in Fortune magazine shared Lukasa’s story.

He is 15 years old, lives in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and works in a mine 2 hours from his home. Lukasa walks to the mine each day, works 8 hours transporting cobalt and then walks home. During work, he hoists a 22 pound sack of cobalt out of the pit, carries it for an hour to a trading depot and then sells it to a Chinese trading company. On a good day, Lukasa earns $9 for that 22 pounds of cobalt before walking home for the day. That’s 41 cents per pound.

At the time of this writing (2022), the market price of cobalt is $60,412.50 per metric ton. That is equivalent to $30.20 per pound, or 73.6 times what Lukasa makes per pound on a good day.

Families living in desperate circumstances can see child labor as their only hope. GFA World is committed to providing positive alternatives for these families through child sponsorship.

When impoverished families are given options to keep their kids in school, that is often all the motivation they need. Through our programs, children are provided with basic necessities such as nutritious food, clean water, educational help, school resources and other helpful supplies. This help takes some financial burden off the family and keeps the family from resorting to child labor to meet their needs.

1 Walt, Vivian. “Blood, Sweat, and Batteries.” Fortune. http://fortune.com/longform/blood-sweat-and-batteries/. August 23, 2018.