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DRC: The complex world of working children

Happy easter weekend! So what was it like here? Saturday was a full day meeting at work. Difficult travel and busy people mean you have your meetings when you can have them, not when it’s convenient.

Saturday night involved dinner in a little Congolese restaurant tucked away behind a house – if you didn’t know it was there it would be impossible to find.

Sunday, a day of rest, a lie-in, reading, an afternoon drink, and a banjo lesson. And today, Monday, I’m working in my room. The office will be empty, and I don’t want to use up the generator fuel.

I’ve been reading more about children working in DRC. Today I’ve learnt that the pygmy population here generally don’t measure age. The transition from childhood to adulthood is marked in line with their hunting ability.

That makes knowing which children are ‘school-age’ even harder than usual in a place where few births are registered to start with.

I’ve learnt about the tens of thousands of children who are less than six years old who work in illegal mines. They’re still just babies.

I’ve learned that there are places where we have worked to raise awareness of child labour laws, but where that information is being used against children, who are now being fined if they are caught working as it’s ‘illegal’.

So we’re now also working to raise awareness of responsibilities as well as rights, particularly adults’ responsibilities to protect children from harm.

I’ve learned that the money children earn by working in mines pays their teachers’ salary and also some of the education administration costs.

In parts of DRC, we have a situation where we can either have working children and an education system with no children to teach because they’re working, or we can have lots of non-working children to teach but noone to teach them any more.

I’ve learned that the legal mines – operated by licenced and registered mining companies, often multinationals – often commit to providing schools in the area for their employees’ children and the local communities.

But because of the global recession they haven’t, which is how children living in mud huts in jungles on the equator are affected by spending and investment habits on other continents.

I’ve written a few different sentences now to follow the ones above, but I’ve deleted them all. I’m not a political analyst, I’m not an economist, my history of colonialism is seriously incomplete, and I get angry with people who make assertions without knowledge or experience.

So I’m not going to moralise, I’m just going to say that this seems grossly wrong, unfair and I feel responsible. Seeing as it’s mainly my friends reading this, I think you’ll get what I mean.

But, as Nina Simone wisely observed, it’s a new dawn it’s a new day.

Yesterday we had problems, today we have solutions. Today we have found new ways for families to earn a living so the children can stop working and go to school.

We have found a few improvements for our alternative education classes, run for children who couldn’t go to school when they were younger, which were already pretty fabulous to start with.

We’ve had a good think about how to make this all sustainable and come up with some cunning plans. And that, my dears, deserves a beer. Cheers.

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