Two thirds of the world’s cobalt, an essential raw material for smartphone and EV batteries, comes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), much of it from artisanal and small scale mining. The living conditions of artisanal miners in the largest cobalt mining area in the country in the ex-Katanga are among the worst in the world. Women, girls and an estimated 40,000 children are forced to work in cobalt mines, in unsafe and unhealthy conditions, using rudimental tools and without any protective equipment. They work for less than a dollar a day, not enough to survive, while being denied their basic rights to protection, healthcare and education.
We are committed to breaking the cycle of abuse and violence against these children, women and girls and to eradicate child labor in cobalt mining, promoting and protecting children’s rights. We’ve been working directly engaging the mining communities for almost 10 years and we are have been recognized as a NGO working effectively to address the widespread human rights abuses in the area.
In 2013, the Good Shepherd International Foundation and Bon Pasteur Kolwezi – the local development partner, affiliate with the Good Shepherd sisters – started a program in DRC to assist women, girls and children from artisanal mining communities of Domaine Marial, an isolated, impoverished and underserved cobalt mining area around the city of Kolwezi. Over the years the program, through a holistic model of intervention integrating education, alternative livelihoods and social protection was able to reach more than 20,000 people in 8 artisanal mining communities.
An innovative social business project, which guarantees the transfer of know-how and infrastructural investments for quality agriculture and fish farming, creating new employment opportunities in a chronically weak sector and promoting and helping the recovery of land from the local communities.
The most remote communities where we work face many difficulties in accessing health services in Kolwezi area. To support communities’ needs on basic healthcare and social-medical counseling we have set up a Mobile Clinic to provide on-site pediatric, obstetrics and gynecology medical services for children and women.
The new Bon Pasteur Centre comprises 14 equipped classrooms to instruct roughly 1,000 children hailing from the artisanal cobalt mining community of Kanina. The Centre hosts the activities of the Child Protection Project, one of the pillars of the program to eliminate child labor and promote children’s rights.
We adopt an integrated approach to eradicate child labor and human rights violations in the communities negatively affected by cobalt extractive operations, addressing their root causes such as poverty, lack of social protection and alternatives to mining.
Improving rights awareness, welfare and access to services >
Children and Girls free from human rights abuses >
Building a future outside the mines >
A women-led alternative agribusiness for long term sustainability >
Continuous capacity Bulding of local implementing partners >
Bon Pasteur Kolwezi, local development partner of GSIF in DR Congo, has been awarded the 2021 Stop Slavery Hero Award by the Thompson Reuters Foundation as a recognition for its significant impact in the in the fight to eliminate child labor and eradicate modern slavery.
Bon Pasteur Kolwezi received also the Ghai Larissa Award Special Edition 2021 by the African Child Policy Forum for its outstanding contribution to the elimination of child labour in Africa and the adoption of a good model practice that can be replicated.
The Good Shepherd International Foundation produced the film ‘Maisha: A New Life Outside the Mines’ documenting the living conditions of the artisanal mining community in Kolwezi and the impact that this community development project is having. The film is currently available online and was shown at more than 10 film festivals and screenings throughout the world. It was awarded numerous honors, including Best Documentary Short Filmat the 12th Human Rights Film Festival of Barcelona and Best Ethnografic Filmat the Vaasa Festival 2016.
A group of 10,000+ community members are regularly involved in awareness raising on mining code, human rights, government and citizens’ responsibilities, community development, advocacy and conflicts management and resolution. Thank to these activities, that enhance social cohesion within the fragmented communities and facilitate collective actions, the communities are more able to lobby the local Government and mining companies for better living and working conditions. Communities are supported to be actively engaged and through effective mobilization, to ensure government commitment to equitable resource distribution and full compliance of mining companies with national and international laws and conventions.
In 2020 the project contributed also to increase awareness of the communities on the importance of respecting the barrier measures to limit the spread of Covid-19, but at the same time has advocated for the communities to the mining companies to benefit from social protection during the crisis.
The advocacy and mobilization work produced positive results over the past years in improving infrastructures and social basic services – that are still poor or lacking – including the installation of a new generator (benefitting 5,000 households), the construction of 5 schools in different communities (Kabamba, Mukoma, Musunoi, Kapata and Kisote) and the digging of wells, that serve more than 3,000 residents.
To protect women, girls and children from abuse and violence in the mining communities the program promotes their rights and holistic development in safe and supportive spaces. The Bon Pasteur Centre, inaugurated in September 2019, functions as a referral centre for abuses on children and women and has assisted in the prosecution of cases of corporal punishment, neglect, sexual abuse, and early arranged and forced marriage. The Centre works intensely to prevent violence and human rights abuses against children and women within the community, through home visits, education on child protection and positive parenting, counselling and psycho-social support to the families.
The economic empowerment project empowers girls and women by providing them with basic education, healthcare and skills trainings and has enrolled 600 girls and 500 women. Each had been engaged in unsafe jobs in the mines; many were forced into commercial sexual exploitation there. The girls trained at the Economic Empowerment Center in vocational training in tailoring, catering, bakery and literacy now have a job or are self-employed and earn an income. Furthermore, the project provides community sensitization activities on gender equity, reproductive health, women’s rights, hygiene and sanitation.
The project provides access to informal education and school feeding, plus supports the reintegration of children into the formal school system and has established an unprecedented and effective informal reporting system to pursue the abuse of children occurring within the community. To date, 4,800+ children – many of them orphans or living in very vulnerable condition and engaged in different forms of work in artisanal cobalt mining – have been enrolled in the program and in 2021 70% of them have stopped working as a result. More than 2,500 boys and girls attended classes in 2021 in the education centers in the various communities.
A total of 520 children were reintegrated into the formal school system and are monitored to ensure continued participation. The children are supported by teachers, psychologists, nurses and their parents to quit work in the mines and develop their full potential, through age-appropriate, physical, psychological, intellectual activities, in the schools and in other secure community settings. Children can developed their capacity to protect themselves, their environment and at the same time their ability to protect other children. The project aims to strengthening children’s power and confidence to take decisions, and positively influence their living environments, building their capacity to resist to difficult situations.
Extreme poverty is the primary root cause of the human rights violations such as child labor in the mining communities. When children are encouraged – or forced- to quit hazardous work in the mines, without parents having alternatives, less income is available for the family for food and other basic needs, which leads to even worse living conditions.
The alternative livelihood project provides technical training in agricultural and animal husbandry to community members, offering them an alternative livelihood to the unsafe mining work. Thanks to the creation of ten farming cooperatives, more than 1,000 farmers no longer go to the mines to earn an income and most families involved have improved their year-round food security. As of 2021, 66% of the families can cover their yearly subsistence needs. Moreover, 69% of the women who joined farming cooperatives, that followed the creation of Maisha – the first agricultural cooperative led by women in the area – could afford to quit the mines. The women participating in the cooperatives have increased their income through sustainable farming, animal husbandry and other income-generating activities, improving not only the food security but also the overall living conditions of their families. In 2019 Chakuishi, an innovative project of social business in agriculture aimed at developing self-sustainable and locally owned social enterprises in the communities, started through know-how transfer and empowerment to farming cooperatives.
To continue to expand their activities and reach more mining communities in a sustainable way, the program requires improved and strengthened capacities and an effective organizational structure, to provide children, girls and women the best professional support and quality services they need.
Bon Pasteur Kolwezi with the support of the Good Shepherd International Foundation (GSIF) adopts a life-long-learning approach to capacity building and organizational development, to ensure that the program is aligned with human rights principles and modelled on international and national good practices. Local staff and sisters (currently +90 people) are engaged in skills training based on human rights, children’s rights, community based approaches and program management. Development and implementation of policies, standards and procedures are carried out to ensure a safe environment for all the participants in the program and the staff.