The reality of child labour in Rubaya

By Benafsha Delgado - February 22, 2020

This is my second time visiting the DRC and it is simply beautiful. I may always be here for business rather than pleasure but somehow, I leave the DRC with such a feeling of elation that I cannot wait to get home and look at scheduling my next trip.

The work I am doing is not out of this world; in fact, many would say that Eastern DRC specifically has been saturated with aid workers and international organisations, tirelessly trying to alleviate the prominence of child labour in the region. Although I do not work specifically on development, my respect for these professionals grows daily as I continue to have the pleasure of working with some of them in the field.

Our team will speak with businesses, civil society and those whose lives are directly impacted by the challenges child labour brings to their local communities. During my time here, I want to see for myself why it is taking the world so long to address the root causes of why children are still in child labour. There are many people to blame - from the Government who has ratified all the Treaties possible to protect children from exploitation, to companies who continue to source products knowing children are being used to work the fields or in the mines. Whatever the result, the innocent party will always be the children enthralled in this unacceptable practice.

We are scheduled to visit a town called Rubaya in Masisi Territory. It is located in North Kivu and is roughly three hours away from Goma. The terrain is rough and every corner we turn feels like it will be the last. But we arrive safely and instantly I am drawn to the hustle and bustle of life in this town. There are women and men selling fruit and household goods on the roadside, children walking in small groups with their peers and shockingly, the elderly carrying heavy loads on their backs. Rubaya is nothing like I thought it would be but everything I had hoped to experience when visiting a Congolese town where the presence of NGOs is not as blatant as in other parts of the country.

Our day is filled with several back-to-back meetings. Group after group enter and after exchanging pleasantries, we begin asking a series of questions with respect to the organisation they represent. We are also asked about our role in the child labour project we are working on and how we will use the input we receive from these meetings. When the day ends, I notice a lady who is insistent we speak to her tomorrow. She says she works for radio Amani and that she would like to talk to us about her work in the local community.

The next day we agree to meet her and hear her story about being a journalist and reporting on child labour. I have not named her because we don’t want to endanger her personally or jeopardise the critical work she does in Rubaya. The work she is involved in is extremely necessary as she focuses on children who work in some of the worst forms of child labour. From collecting minerals in the mines to engaging in prostitution or being recruited into armed groups. It doesn’t really get any worse than what she has seen.

The main driver for child labour in this region is poverty and a lack of educational opportunities for children. Many households expect their children to work and contribute to the economic stability of the family. Thanks to Radio Amani’s outreach work, parents have been sensitised to the benefits of sending their children to school. However, the key issue is that the children who stop working, do not have access to safer alternatives. If children are scared away from working in the mines, it may push them into another form of child labour that is just as hazardous like working in the agricultural sector or in hospitality.

Children are also not returning to school even when their parents have undergone awareness-raising programmes because they are becoming financially independent and do not want to give this up. In the DRC there is a common saying that once money has touched a child’s hand, it is very difficult to encourage them to return to school. Not only do they appreciate and welcome their newly found economic freedom - their families were never in the position to take care of the child’s basic needs in the first place so they unfortunately cannot rely on their parents.

Listening to her talk to us about the child labour situation in Rubaya and the surrounding communities, it becomes apparent that although there is a common assumption most children are involved in child labour because they are supporting their families, we learn that there are a myriad of drivers that push children into work and away from receiving an education. This is the reality of child labour in Rubaya.

I was so glad that we made the effort to listen to what she had to say as it allowed her to explain to us the complexities of child labour in the DRC. This is exactly what we came out here to do – listen first hand from those who are tackling this problem on the frontline. No amount of desktop research, Zoom calls or business meetings in the UK would ever yield the same results.

Below Left: Rubaya town centre, DRC, February 22, 2020 ©UN GLOBAL COMPACT NETWORK UK/Benafsha Delgado
Below Middle: Rubaya, DRC February 22, 2020 ©UN GLOBAL COMPACT NETWORK UK/Benafsha Delgado
Below Right:
UN Global Compact Network UK team and DRC World Vision Ethiopia colleague, en route to Rubaya, DRC February 22, 2020 ©UN GLOBAL COMPACT NETWORK UK/Benafsha Delgado

Rubaya photo 1
Rubaya photo 2
Rubaya photo 3

Disclaimer: ‘This material has been funded by UK aid from the UK government; however the views expressed do not necessarily reflect the UK government’s official policies.'