Underage workers wind up digging for gold, and too often dying in the process. Family traditions are part of why no one is ever held responsible.
KAMITUGA - In this Congolese mining city, children are working illegally -- and dying as a result.
Over the past few months alone, at least ten youths were reported to have died, crushed by collapsing rocks or asphyxiated inside the mines of Kamituga, in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Their heartbroken parents are left to just take compensation money -- no one is considering suing the directors of the mines.
One father, a local pastor, lost both his sons, aged 16 and 18. “One of the people in charge of a gold mine gave me $3,000 after they died," he recalls, adding only that his eldest son had recently graduated from high school.
According to a local activist Benoit Mwati, ten boys died in 2012 from collapsing rocks or asphyxia in the mining sector of Kamituga. “A 17-year-old died from asphyxia in a gold mine tunnel. The owner bought the family a wooden house. I think it's worth $1,500. There was no trial,” Mwati remembers.
However, the Civil Code (Article 258) stipulates that “any act from a person causing another person damages, compels said person to make amends.” Article 260 adds that a person must be held accountable for their actions and the actions of those they are responsible for.
Assistant Deputy Commissioner Eugene Kakisingi of the local mining authority says work in the mines is the worst job a child can do, and cites a statute strictly prohibiting "any kind of labor that may jeopardize by its nature, work conditions, the personal health, growth, security, dignity and morality of a child,” says Kakisingi.
But, as they search for gold in the valley of the nearby Mobale River, both children and adults in their overalls -- armed with a pickaxe and a headlamp -- come and go from the depths of the earth. The children eagerly dig for their treasure, but are oblivious to the risks they face when emulating the adults. Most of them work at the surface level, sorting out the gold from the stones.
Head of the nearby “Social Vision” association Pappy Kajakiba says the owners of the mines where kids are dying "need to be prosecuted on charges of manslaughter" for failing to prevent the deaths. For now, the Civil Society Organization has condemned child labor in mines in monthly meetings for child protection, but to no avail.
One reason why the parents don’t file formal complaints is pressure from the extended family. The pastor who lost his two sons last year explained that local custom forbids taking action -- “because lots of kids are bound to work in the mines of their fathers, uncles or elder brothers,” explains Benoit Mwati.