Global March Board member, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) released a report on 24 November 2010 on the situation of core labour standards in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The release was timed to coincide with the review of the trade policies of the DRC by the General Council of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in Geneva, Switzerland, at the end of November. The report finds prevalent violations of all core international labour standards especially with regard to child and forced labour.
Although legislation recognises the fundamental rights to form and join a union, collectively bargain
and strike, the report finds that many so-called trade unions are actually organised by employers in an effort to discourage free trade unions from operating. Anti-union discrimination remains unpunished along with many other crimes against trade unions. The police and judiciary frequently make arbitrary use of their powers against trade unionists, and cover up the actions of investors and corrupt officials who breach the law.
Women face discrimination in employment and need their husbands’ agreement in order to perform salaried work. In addition, most women are employed in low-skilled jobs. The report also notes that the International Labour Organization (ILO) has criticised discrimination against pygmies who are marginalised and lack control over their lands and assets. There is also no provision of employment opportunities, access to buildings and social services for disabled persons.
The DRC ratified ILO Conventions No. 138 on the Minimum Age of Employment and No. 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour in 2001. The law sets the minimum age for admission to work at the age of 15 after the employer has obtained the consent of the parents or guardians of the child. There are specific provisions for children younger than 16 who are not allowed to work for more than four hours a day and all children are barred by law from working in hazardous jobs. These have been included in a hazardous work list compiled by the government. The government has also promised to revise a list of light work authorised for persons between the ages of 14 and 16 from 1975.
However, according to the ITUC report, the authorities lack financial and human resources to perform controls and prosecute offenders who make use of child labour. There is no dedicated inspectorate charged with carrying out child labour controls, for example, in 2009, the police only reported one company using child labour. Most rural child labour is found in mines, stone quarries and subsistence
agriculture. In the cities, children work as water sellers and street vendors as well as in bars, hotels and domestic servitude. There are reports that many children, particularly girls, are engaged in prostitution, sometimes encouraged by their families.
The UNICEF report, The State of the World’s Children, reveals that 29 per cent of boys and 34 per cent of girls aged between 5 and 14 perform child labour. In 2000, the ILO estimated that nearly 2 million children aged between 10 and 14 were economically active in the DRC, with an almost equal number of girls and boys. Children working in mines and quarries comprise on average about one third of the workforce. According to reports by NGOs and news agencies, the problem is prevalent in mining regions such as Katanga, Kasai and Kivu which are rich in cobalt, uranium, gold, diamonds, copper and other ores. Children reportedly work in order to contribute to their family’s income or to cover the education costs of other members of their family. In 2009, the ILO called the government, trade unions and employers to discuss the issue of child miners in Katanga and design appropriate policies and programmes to withdraw children from mines.
In addition, many children are forced into military recruitment primarily by armed groups. Although child soldiers used to join armed forces in order to escape domestic violence or poverty, reports show that recently recruitment of minors is increasingly becoming involuntary. Armed groups such as the Rwandan Forces Démocratiques de Liberation (FDLR) and the Ugandan Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) operate in the DRC along with Mai-Mai and other local armed groups and recruit children with the intention of coercing them into becoming fighters or undertaking forced labour in mines under their control. The law punishes recruiters of child soldiers with 20 years in prison. However the enforcement of this law is poor.
Due to United Nations’ efforts, a national programme for disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration was established and rescued more than 36,000 children from armed forces and groups
since 2004. Nonetheless, it is reported that girls are rarely rescued as they play the multiple roles of
scouts, porters, sexual slaves and soldiers. The country’s long-standing internal conflicts and the prevalent impunity have given space for numerous rapes and acts of sexual violence, particularly against women and children. According to Human Rights Watch, the LRA has been raiding schools to force children into armed groups. This is reportedly partly the reason of low school attendance rates. Another reason is the lack of schools themselves and the disorganisation of those which exist, especially in the eastern part of the country.
However, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has assisted in the reconstruction of damaged schools and over 12,000 displaced children have benefited from emergency support programmes for education. The government has also been implementing projects to improve attendance rates, including the Support Project for the Recovery of the Educational Sector (PARSEC) and the Support Project for the Educational Sector (PASE).
To download a copy of the detailed report, click here
To download a copy of UNICEF’s State of the World’s Children 2010 in English, French and Spanish, click here