Chinese Companies Trafficked 40,000 Children In Congo, Forcing Them to Work In Hazardous Mines

Chinese Companies Trafficked 40,000 Children In Congo, Forcing Them to Work In Hazardous Mines

Human rights activists have accused China of exploiting thousands of Congolese children by forcing them to work in cobalt mines.

A new demand for cobalt, a mineral used in electric vehicle batteries, has emerged amid a global race to dominate the electric vehicle market. At a congressional hearing on July 14, witnesses testified to the inhumane treatment and abuse of 40,000 children in cobalt mines in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Congolese advocates say that many children are trafficked to work in mines because of their small size. They are forced to work long hours and are at risk of injury and disease. A photo of a Congolese boy who lost his leg in an artisanal mine inspired the agenda for the commission meeting.

“China exploits the vast cobalt resources of the DRC on the backs of trafficked workers and child laborers to fuel its economy and global agenda,” said New Jersey Republican Rep. Christopher Smith, who chaired the meeting.

“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, with an estimated 40,000 Congolese children toiling in unregulated artisanal mines under hazardous conditions.”

According to reports, the Democratic Republic of the Congo produces more than 70% of the world’s cobalt, with 15% to 30% produced in smaller unregulated mines. Cobalt is also used in computer and cellphone batteries. The World Economic Forum’s Global Battery Alliance predicts that demand for cobalt for batteries will quadruple by 2030 due to the anticipated electric vehicle boom.

“The DRC is a resource-rich country with poor governance,” Smith said.

According to reports, the small mines, known as artisanal mines, have a history of human rights violations.

According to the Council on Foreign Relations, the Democratic Republic of the Congo is more vulnerable to human rights violations due to “violent ethnic conflict, Ebola, and high levels of corruption.”

According to Congolese civil rights lawyer Hervé Diakiese Kyungu, artisanal mines “are frequently nothing more than narrow shafts dug into the ground, which is why children are recruited.” He claims that in many cases, they are forced to do the work with only their hands or rudimentary tools, with no protective equipment.

Kyungu claims that the mines expose the children to radioactive minerals and “deadly and painful” diseases. The mines are supposed to be owned by Congolese citizens, but they are selling the products mostly to Chinese businesses.

According to the Globe and Mail, China imported 83 percent of its cobalt from the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2019, and Chinese companies reportedly control the majority of cobalt mining projects and output.

The trade also involves Pakistanis and Indians.

“They are exploited and underpaid, and the work is often fatal because the children must crawl into small holes dug into the earth,” Kyungu said.

Kyungu also stated that Chinese nationals physically supervise some of the mines, referring to a viral video in which a Chinese national orders mine workers to be whipped.

Father Rigobert Minani Bihuzo, a Congolese Catholic priest, told congressional members that the children work “seven days a week and more than 12 hours a day using tools like hammers, chisels, and spades.”

“Their working conditions are akin to slavery,” he claimed. “Injuries are common, and for those who are injured or become ill, a lack of medical care means that the majority will die as a result of various untreated illnesses.”

The advocates urged US lawmakers to impose sanctions and bans on investment in artisanal mines producing cobalt.

“It even comes here to the United States, so it means that even your industry is using cobalt from mines where children are used, exploited like slaves,” Kyungu explained. “Even with regard for your own laws… You are the legislators. You must strengthen it, and people must be prosecuted.”


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