African Development Bank projects returns thousands of children from cobalt mines to schools

The project has helped to extricate many Congolese children from artisanal cobalt mines and to train thousands of their young parents to become farmers

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Launched in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2019, the Support Project for the Alternative Welfare of Children and Young People Involved in the Cobalt Supply Chain (PABEA-Cobalt) is nearing the end, in December 2024, of its planned implementation. Funded to the tune of US$78 million by the African Development Fund – the concessional financing window of the African Development Bank Group  – and the Transition Support Facility, the project has helped to extricate many Congolese children from artisanal cobalt mines and to train thousands of their young parents to become farmers.

The project implementation and results report, published by the African Development Bank on 26 January 2024, emphasised that 9,016 children (46.2 per cent of whom are girls) have been taken out of the mines and 3,235 young people (of an initial target of 6,250) have been retrained in the agriculture sector. The project has also brought 2,425 boys and 2,044 girls back to school so far, to provide them with a better education.

Raymond Eyoh Besong, who is managing the project for the Bank, shares his thoughts on the results of the initiative. He considers that the overall objectives of contributing to improving the living conditions of people in the Lualaba and Haut-Katanga Provinces and establishing a responsible cobalt ore supply chain in the Democratic Republic of Congo, will “definitely be achieved”.

Getting children out of mines is not always easy, but the project has succeeded. How did you go about it?

The project’s appraisal report included a comprehensive analysis to identify the root causes of children’s presence in mines and at artisanal mining sites. These are mainly household poverty and the inadequacy or lack of basic social infrastructure. The project’s intervention strategy therefore concentrated on resolving these two main causes, and included all stakeholders in the project area who have been fighting to end child labour, including political and administrative authorities, civil society, the private sector, and so on.

Some of the children went straight from the mines to the classroom. How did you manage to get them back into school, and how did they adapt to the change?

The project’s holistic approach, combining children’s social reintegration (with regard to schooling, nutrition, health, psychology and civil registration) and the socio-economic transition to agribusiness for their parents, as well as awareness-raising and the many activities planned since the project appraisal such as identifying the direct beneficiaries, are the major incentives for encouraging the children to go back to school and their parents to keep them there.

The establishment of Centres for the Promotion of Youth Entrepreneurship in Agribusiness has convinced local leaders, the communities themselves and the parents of the children in question, of the project’s effectiveness, sustainability, and ownership while reassuring them that parents can maintain social responsibility for their children post-project.

Through ongoing awareness-raising initiatives, PABEA-Cobalt has constantly reminded children that their place is in school and not in the mines. The distribution of school kits (bags, exercise books, uniforms, shoes, etc.) and hygiene kits, and the payment of school fees, have made it easier for the children benefitting from the project to feel that they are on an equal footing with other pupils, and for them to integrate into and adapt to other groups of children with confidence.

Nearly half of the young people earmarked for a transition to farming have actually followed through with it. Why have they been so keen?

These young people are very aware that artisanal mining, under the conditions in which it is carried out, is high-risk work (respiratory illnesses, skin diseases, fatal accidents due to mine collapses, etc.). When agribusiness was presented to them as an alternative to mining, they expressed a desire to undergo training in the agriculture sector, particularly as they could also see agricultural infrastructure being built to support them in this transition.

The Bank’s appraisal report suggests that the project should be extended. What remains to be done?

We still must build and bring into operation the vocational training centres for roles in farming, artisanal mining, and tailoring and sewing, among others, and provide effective support for the agricultural cooperatives that have been set up as part of the agribusiness production activities.

The appraisal report also notes that project information was actively communicated. How has this helped you reach your target audiences?

PABEA-Cobalt drew up a communication strategy and a strategic communication and awareness-raising plan to promote alternative welfare. The project used all available communication channels — community radio stations, knocking on doors, social media, focus groups, and traditional national and local media (radio, TV, newspapers, posters, visuals, etc.) – to implement them.

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