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1 Aug 2022

Catholic News Service

DRC: House hearing investigates accusations that China is exploiting children in Africa in the mining of cobalt, lithium and various rare earth minerals

‘House hearing examines child labor abuses in Chinese-owned mines in Congo’ 22 July 2022

The current state of child labor and human rights violations in Congo’s mining sector “is particularly critical,” a Jesuit priest told a recent House hearing looking into accusations China is exploiting children in Africa in the mining of cobalt, lithium and various rare earth minerals. Congo produces over 70% of the world’s cobalt, which along with other minerals, is used in components for smartphones, digital cameras, computer hard disks, flat-screen televisions, computer monitors and other high-tech devices. Jesuit Father Rigobert Minani Bihuzo, regional coordinator of the Ecclesial Network of the Congo Basin Forest, was one of several witnesses at a July 15 hearing of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission of the U.S. Congress.

… “On the backs of trafficked workers and child laborers, China exploits the vast cobalt resources of the DCR (Congo) to fuel its economy and global agenda,” said Rep. Chris Smith, N.J., who ran the hearing as the commission’s co-chair. “The Chinese Communist Party’s quest for cobalt for batteries and lithium for solar panels to power the so-called green economy motivates human rapacity as an estimated 40,000 children in Congo toil in nonregulated artisanal mines under hazardous conditions,” said Smith, who also is the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa… “All field survey reports deplored the fact that the majority of mines use children in various tasks. This is done while Congolese legislation and international standards prohibit child labor,” he said, adding that boys and girls “who initially come to the mines to obtain money for their schooling, end up dropping out of school.”

… Also testifying was Hervé Diakiese Kyungu, a prominent Congolese civil rights attorney who previously represented child soldier victims before the International Criminal Court. Diakiese confirmed the use of child labor in these mines and noted China’s “new way of colonization” uses “some very ugly old ways to enforce control.” In southern Congo, on a site managed by the Chinese-owned Commus company, he said, “two persons identified as Chinese citizen(s) … instructed two Congolese military officers to whip two Congolese who were found on their site.” …Also testifying was Eric Shultz, former U.S. ambassador to Zambia, who noted that “China uses the same approach in every African country: fueling authoritarianism, corruption, and economic inefficiency.” “We are in a very real sense at war with China in Africa — and Russia too for that matter. Or rather they are at war with us,” Shultz said. “And Africa is too important, I believe, for the U.S. to not fight back.”