Carter Center Works to Protect Congolese Children in Mines

In Katanga Province in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), thousands of children spend their days digging, breaking stones, and transporting and washing minerals, risking exposure to dangerous levels of radiation, potential pulmonary diseases, and physical and sexual abuse by peers and adults.

Radio messages to mining communities, developed by The Carter Center and local partners, communicated the dangers faced by children working in the mines as part of a larger child protection campaign.

In one dialogue, two young boys working in an artisanal mine discuss children's rights, with one convinced that children do not have any rights.

Other children of our age make progress.  My neighbor goes to school every day and learns a lot of things.  Others are even talking about going to college in a few years!

Ah! I would like to go to school as well and make some friends there.  I would like to have the possibility to learn a lot.  If only we were able to go to school and not work in the fields!

There are some people saying that children have the right to access education and be away from danger.  If this is true, why are we working in the fields?  Why are we not going to school? And why do I not have the right to access to healthcare when I am sick?

As the dialogue continues, the other boy explains that children do have rights.

One day we had a visit and I was told that children have a right to access to education and to protection.  And working in the fields is a violation of our rights!  I also was told that it is our parents' responsibilities to protect us and to send us to school, not to work in the fields where it is too dangerous for children… That's why education must be available to all children and a protection system must be in place.

But we are poor.  Our families cannot live without the wages we earn by working in the fields!

I was told that poverty does not justify any dangerous work in the fields. Our parents must find other ways to survive, and they must not expect children to work in the fields in dangerous conditions.

The radio messages were recorded in French and Swahili in May 2012 and aired several times a day throughout June on stations across the region.

"As part of the larger communications platform, these radio messages have made a difference in raising awareness of the dangers faced by children who work in mines, as well as the rights of children in general," said Karin Ryan, director of the Carter Center's Human Rights Program. "As long as mining communities remain impoverished though, families have few options and child labor will continue. The Carter Center is working to encourage the government and companies to be sure communities benefit from extractive industries."

The Center's project also included door-to-door campaigns and open houses. Child Protection Networks were established to identify and respond to individual cases of child abuse and exploitation, and a case management database was developed to allow improved coordination among community leaders, NGOs, and enforcement agents.

"We want to strengthen the prosecution of perpetrators but also ensure that at-risk children and children who have experienced abuse and exploitation have access to a basic system of protection to which they have a fundamental right," said Ryan.

The Carter Center's work in child protection will continue at the Human Rights House in Kinshasa, where the Center's other permanent human rights activities are based in the DRC. The Center will use training modules developed during this project to equip NGO partners with the information and skills they need to better serve their vulnerable clients.

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