The community-based approach to child protection of Bon Pasteur (Good Shepherd) Kolwezi has been recognized as an effective model to eradicate child labor in ASM communities in a report released by the Care and Protection of Children (CPC) Learning Network of Columbia University.
The report "Weaving the Web: Documenting the Good Shepherd sisters’ Approach to Community based Development and Child Protection in Kolwezi, DRC" is the result of six-months of research, which examined the unique approach of Bon Pasteur Kolwezi in developing and implementing a community-led child protection program in artisanal and small-scale (ASM) cobalt mining communities. Prof. Canavera was joined by four Congolese researchers who used a qualitative methodology to conduct the study.
As highlighted in the report, a distinctive approach of “radical inclusivity” serves as the cornerstone of the program founded in 2012. This element, combined with good community development practices and a human rights value framework, are at the core of the work that Bon Pasteur (Good Shepherd) has developed in Kolwezi to eliminate child labor in the province’s ASM cobalt mining communities.
ASM actually provide essential raw materials, such as cobalt, for the electronic and automotive industries. More than half of the world’s total supply of cobalt comes from the DRC, and according to the government’s own estimates 20 percent of the cobalt currently exported comes from artisanal (or informal) miners in the southern part of the country. Tens of thousands of children in DRC are involved in every stage of mining for cobalt and UNICEF estimates that overall 40,000 children are working in DRC mines.
According to a study carried out by the Good Shepherd Sisters Congo in 2013, 70 percent of children in Kolwezi were involved in different forms of child labor and 60 percent in mining activities, exposing them to harm and severely compromising their health and well-being. The rate of illiteracy among children was extensive reaching 90 percent, and most of children did not recall when they had their last meal. The exploitation of child labour, hunger and malnutrition has profound effects on development and learning.
The goal of the research project was to document what the child protection program has effectively achieved in the past five years and how its contributing to mitigating child protection-related risks and strengthening the existing protective mechanisms.
One of the most unique and important aspects of Bon Pasteur child protection program, as reported by the CPC, is that it is not exclusively focused on children or on traditional child protection approaches. “Rather than treating women’s protection and empowerment or child protection as isolated work strands, removed from the daily concerns of community life, the Bon Pasteur strategy situates women’s and children’s protection and empowerment in a broader poverty reduction and governance framework,” says Prof. Canavera, who coordinated the research.
“Thanks to the fruitful cooperation with CPC for this program-level research, now we can better focus and evaluate not just what we are doing to combat child labor in cobalt artisanal mining but also how we are doing it and what are the indispensable components of our human rights and community development approach,” explains Cristina Duranti, Director of Good Shepherd International, underlining that a possible program expansion to reach more children and a future replication of the child protection model must preserve all the core features that have made the Bon Pasteur’s approach unique and successful.
“Only through a comprehensive community-based approach to reduce poverty and improve governance, can we expect to eradicate child labor from the cobalt mining sites of Kolwezi,” said Catherine Mutindi, Program Director of Bon Pasteur Kolwezi. “The impact of this approach can be seen at our base of operation in the mining site of Kanina. Here, for the first time in memory, children have thrown down their sacks and shovels and have picked up books. When we first arrived here six years ago, the parents were desperate. They told us they feared their children would die in the mines. We started this program to first save and protect the children. It’s now grown to involve the entire community.”