Issue of the Child Labor in Democratic Republic of Congo and It's Effect on Kids Health and Ongoing Poverty


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The practice of child labor has existed ever since the European colonization of Africa and has played a key role in the economy, specifically in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). To this day, child labor remains widespread in the DRC’s society, in which more than 40,000 children are put into mines for 24 hour shifts (UNICEF). The continuation of this practice, however, raises the concerns of many detrimental health issues. According to the study from The Journal of Cancer, it suggests that long working hours (which child labor consists of) can link up to long-term effects such as lung cancers, breast cancer, and others that is dealt by pollution (Heikkila et al. 817). Past U.S. president Richard Nixon famously said in his speech, “Address to the Nation on Labor Day” , that “ the need for a safe and clean place to work, the need for medical care and a secure retirement” generally hints his development of Comprehensive Health Insurance Plan(or CHIP) in 1974. However, both CHIP nor any state laws currently imposes on Child Labor, allowing corrupt employers to exploit children to work in harsh conditions. Although child labor copes with poverty, it is essential to understand the current status of child labor and how it should be regulated by the government. To narrow it down, this leads to the question: Given the extreme poverty conditions, what do the health impacts of child labor suggest about the need for government regulation through policies in the DRC? Generally, an analysis through the economical, political, and medical perspectives show that child labor merits government regulation. These regulations will ultimately minimize children’s health risks of working and exploitation and in maximizing their well-being and work efficiency.

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Child labour, according to the International Labour Organisation, is a term that refers to “the employment of children in any work that deprives them of their childhood, interferes with their ability to attend regular school, that is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful”. During the time of the industrial revolution, children were working at new extremes, from working longer hours in dangerous factories to getting little to no money to support their income(History). At that time, the exponential increase of child workers was increasing rapidly because they were easier to control in factories and most importantly, they would get lower wages than adults. However, many reformers and labor organizers wanted to bring change and improve the living conditions of these Children. With many reformers influencing the necessity of education, this led states to establish “minimum wage for labor and minimal requirements for school”(History). By the time of the late 1900’s, child labor was only getting worse, as immigration gave new expansion to suitable jobs for children. According to Madison Horne, a researcher at History, “18 percent of all American workers were under the age of 16”. To further support Horne’s data, Rober Whaples from the University of Wake Forest records that 26.1% of the male population were working and 6.4% women were in the workforce(Whaples). Despite the numbers being low back then, today the problem still remains but matters are only worse. According to the United Nations, worldwide 218 million children between 5 and 17 years are in employment. Furthermore, according to UNICEF, there will still be about more than 100 millions children working despite its gradual decline by 2020. Millions of children around the world are trapped in child labour, depriving them of their childhood, their health and education, and condemning them to a life of poverty and want(UNICEF). Having all these problems about child labor, and having spread across nations, this can be seen as a problem mostly in the DRC. With these children facing serious working conditions, it raises the consequence of long-term health issues.

Most child laborers have some degree of hazardous safety risks which can affect their long-term health. According to Barrone, a publisher on Gale, many miners in the DRC go underground without any safety equipment such as gloves, helmets, or facemasks(Barrone). As to the little supervision the workers get, particularly the children, it increases mortality rates. Furthered by Nemery, “the works are very dangerous. Accidents are very common.” In 2015, thirteen people died in a mining collapse, and prior to that year 16 miners died in a landslide and 15 others in a fire (Barrone). Reported by the Borgden project, “In the resource-rich province of Katanga, an average of 6.6 children die a month from soil collapses caused by deep digging.” Lack of saftey, however, isn’t the only key factor to the rise of mortallity rates as to child labor. Research from the World Bank and the ILO indicate that world wide, “children aged from 5 to 17 are engaged in worser forms of child labor.” Many of these include slavery-like practices, and forcing children into soldiering (UNICEF). This puts children in even more risk of dying as to being forced to serve the military in which is mildly dangerous. According to the Bureau of International Labor Affairs, armed forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo detain children and commit judicial killing of young boys who “are affiliated with non-state armed groups”(BILA). As the DRC fails to regulate safety in mines and many worser forms of child labor, all child workers face serious consequences of accidental risks, more of those who work more heavily than others.

From an economic perspective, substandard workers in child labor can be detrimental to many businesses and industries. This is valid for employment involving child labor. For instance in the disease prevention industry, workers that often inhale cobalt toxins display decreases pulmonary breathing and short breath (CDC), which is worsened with longer working hours in cobalt mines. Siddharth Kara, an activist and expert on modern day slavery and human trafficking, explains that workers that undergo shifts in cobalt mines are likely to die from vital lung heart metal diseases or from collapse without equipment. Although diseases may seem like the only reason leading up to the casualties in workers, there must be further research to link them up. In most cases, impaired performance and casualties in child laborers or other workers can affect companies and many foreign marketing industries, as electronic manufacturing companies value the resource of cobalt to make up products for the satisfaction of the many consumers (Barone). Outside of medical issues, companies face the risks of being accused of exploiting child workers for the export of cobalt. Mark Dummett, humans rights activists in the Amnesty International, states that “Companies whose global profits total $125bn (£86.7bn) cannot credibly claim that they are unable to check where key minerals in their productions come from”(Dummett). As companies fail to reduce diseases and hazardous works, casualties within child workers not only harms companies, but may worsen work production.

Most experts argue that there are effective solutions to detrimental health problems and accidents that can help children in child labor, such as implmenting an Occupational Safety and Health Management System (OSHMS) and the use of Labourer inspectors to effectively enforce national labor legislation for workers can meet the legal requirements(ILO). Most countries establish workplace safety and health committee as a legal requirement, for example, in Kenya, “every employer must establish a safety and health committee at a workplace with 20 or more employees”. Marsha Rakestraw from the Institute of Humane Education notes that contact with national legislators to pass regulation laws can encourage the adoption of “codes of conduct” in which can help reduce child labor and hazardous inhumane practices. (Rakestraw). However, currently, as regulations are being made, there is no concrete evidence of it being enforced onto child labor. For example, article 32 mentions that children must be protected from any economic exploitation and performance of any hazardous works that may harm their physical or mental health. Furthermore, in 2009, laws on child labor have been made by the congolese government. Spite the various regulations made, a study conducted by the UN described that between September 2014 and December 2015, that more than 80 child laborers have met a fatal death in working in mines, mostly for the export of cobalt for the economy, in which is clearly considered a form of economic exploitation (Diane BE). The limited success of these regulations means that although children laborers can seek relief in their works, they are still vulnerable to long-term health risks and hazardous works.

The health consequences of child labor vary from age to age due to differing working conditions, nonetheless, they are all detrimental to ones health. Particularly in the DRC, long hour shifts of mining in high concentrated areas of cobalt increases the risk of lung cancers and diseases. According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, this is because cobalt is radioactive and can actively damage cells in one’s body, particularly increasing the risk of hard metal lung cancer. Reports from Morgan Moyer, a researcher at the University of Rugters, suggest symptoms include “tightening of the chest, cough, clubbing, external dyspnea (shortness of breath), fatigue, the production of sputum, and weight loss”(Moyer). This research links up to findings from the United States National Library of Medicine, which reveals thats exposure to cobalt can development of GIP due to the exposure of cobalt leads to various forms of lung cancer and asthma (Mizutani). A famous study on 116,462 participants conducted by researchers from the British Journal Of Cancer associates between long working hours and lung cancer(Heikkila et al. 814). The results indicate that longer working hours have a high chance of developing lung cancer, though there is no link between cancer and labouring (Heikkila et al. 817). Despite child labour impacting health, excessive mining of cobalt gives rise to pollution, which consequently leads to environmental health issues. According to Benoit Nemery, a public health researcher at the University of Leuven in Belgium who has studied the environmental and human consequences of the DRC’s mining industry, not only miner’s are being exposed to high toxic levels of cobalt, but people that live near high concentrated amounts of cobalt are found affected (Nemery,Gale). Nemery further reasons that cobalt mines are the key factor to promoting these health issues, indicating that these “communities are being exposed to whole cocktail of toxic metals”(Nemery). The rises of detrimental health diseases from toxins of mining can impact the workers health and the environment surrounding the mines.

The DRC contains thousands of minerals in which gives the potential of being one of the richest countries in the world, especially due to their population and manufacturing industrutries. However, despite having these valuable resources, poverty is a major epidemic. According to the World Bank, “77 percent of the nation’s population lives in extreme poverty–often defined as living on less than $1.90 a day”(Rebecca, Gale). With poverty rates this high, children often drop out of school or are fended to go work to support family income, which often increases the stress and depression in most families. Rand Conger from Georgetown University links a family stress model and reports that “parental depressive symptoms have more conflict with adolescent children, which in turn results in less optimal emotional, social, and cognitive outcomes.”(Smith) This means that poor mental health will often associate with “less stimulating home environments” and “more discordant parent-child interactions”. In other words, poor families will funnel their children into mines instead of prioritizing on their education(Preston). Moreover, primary education in the DRC is not free, as education costs higher than per capita income, very few children are educated in which they have to work long hours to earn wages (Ramel). The rise of poverty from the stresses of child labor can have impacts on one’s access to education and many industries in concern. 

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