Kids Are Dying In Congolese Gold Mines, And No One Is Held Accountable

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.

Children at work in a Congolese gold mine
Children at work in a Congolese gold mine
Jean Nondo

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.

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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