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Muntosh* (center) with other children in a catch up class in DRC. Save the Children launched catch up clubs to accelerating the recovery of lost learning and includes Socio-Emotional Learning activities to help children learn and thrive despite the challenges they face.


KINSHASA, (June 12, 2024) – Children working in some of the Democratic Republic of Congo's (DRC) cobalt mines are getting support to trade their tools for textbooks to escape from dangerous and even fatal worker exploitation, Save the Children said on World Day Against Child Labor.  

Home to the world's largest cobalt reserves, the DRC sees tens of thousands of children toiling in mines daily to meet the growing global demand for the mineral that powers lithium-ion batteries in electric cars and electronic devices.

These children face deadly landslides, hazardous conditions, and diseases but continue to abandon school and work due to poverty and hunger in a country facing the worst global hunger crisis, with an estimated 25.4 million people – or one-quarter of the population - facing crisis levels of hunger or worse.

This means many children working in DRC's mines fall behind academically, making it difficult to return to the classroom.

To tackle this learning crisis, Save the Children, with the support of the German non-profit foundation Stiftung Kinderförderung von Playmobil, is helping vulnerable children in mining communities in DRC access the support they need to stay in school or successfully return to the classroom.  

Catch-up Clubs—an innovative approach to accelerating the recovery of lost learning—assess children and teach them at the required level to help them regain literacy and other learning. The clubs include Socio-Emotional Learning activities to help children learn and thrive despite the challenges they face. In addition, Save the Children provides students with learning materials, ensures teachers receive training to build their skills, and provides schools with support to strengthen child protection mechanisms.  

Faustin*, 11, worked in a cobalt mine in southwestern DRC with his mother for two years after his father died in 2019, leaving the family with no income or means to pay his school fees.  

"I am still a child. This job doesn't deserve me. I'd like us all to be able to study and put an end to these mining stories," said Faustin. "I regret the time I spent in the mines. I missed out on a lot of subjects. Because my friends were going to school, and I was working. Those who were at the same level as me when I started mining completely passed me by. That's what I regret."

Older children in the DRC tend to work to pay for their education, while the younger primary school-aged children in the mines are forced to drop out of school completely. 

Muntosh*, 12, was aged about six when he witnessed his brother being killed while working in a cobalt mine. As his family needed the income, he continued to turn up to work and spent six years in the mines before joining Save the Children's Catch-up Clubs. He is now receiving the learning boost he needs to avoid having to drop out of school completely. The toil on his body from mine work, however, still impacts him daily.

"One day, I found a large block of cobalt in one of the holes and removed it. From that day on, my body has hurt a lot. There are also landslides that kill. There was a landslide right next to where we were toiling for cobalt when the earth slipped and buried my brother, and he died. I was in the first grade at the time," said Muntosh.

But when it comes to his education, he added that he now "feels great because my intelligence is coming back. I'm trying to take care of my life." 

Save the Children first launched its innovative Catch-up Clubs in 2021 in the aftermath of the COVID-19 Pandemic and has since expanded the program to 10 countries around the world, including the DRC. The Clubs are specifically geared towards children falling behind in Grades 3-5 when their learning can be accelerated relatively easily. The aim is that after 12 weeks, 80% of participants can read and write to a standard that allows them to learn independently.  

Greg Ramm, Country Director for Save the Children in the DRC, said:

"We're seeing a huge need for green energy solutions globally, which heavily relies on cobalt – but it is imperative that what fuels our smartphones, computers, and electric cars doesn't also fuel child rights violations.

"Growing up in the DRC is incredibly tough for children – with widespread hunger, escalating conflict and the risk of exploitation and abuse. Education is a lifeline for children and a gateway to a better future. However, many children here have fallen behind in school due to the need to work to be able to afford to even go to school.

"The Catch-up Clubs is a holistic approach to education that benefits all levels of the mining community. Without the clubs, some of these children may not be returning to school today. Being able to access quality education shouldn't be a privilege; it is a right."

Between 15% and 30% of the DRC's cobalt is produced in Artisanal and Small-scale Mining (ASM) sites. These sites are less capital and labor intensive than large-scale mining but tend to be linked to environmental harm and human rights abuses, such as child labor. 

Save the Children is calling for greater investment in cobalt ASM communities that enable parents to support their children without the necessity of child labor. These investments can range from supporting the formalization of the artisanal mining sector—including case management for children in child labor—to improving access to education and health systems, both crucial in preventing child labor and other child rights violations. 

Save the Children has worked in the DRC since 1994 to meet humanitarian needs linked to the arrival of refugees and the displacement of populations due to armed conflict in eastern provinces. Save the Children has scaled up its humanitarian response to support existing care systems, training local leaders and communities to prevent and respond to exploitation and abuse and ensuring access to healthcare through mobile clinics. 


*Names changed to protect anonymity

Save the Children believes every child deserves a future. Since our founding more than 100 years ago, we've been advocating for the rights of children worldwide. In the United States and around the world, we give children a healthy start in life, the opportunity to learn and protection from harm. We do whatever it takes for children – every day and in times of crisis – transforming the future we share. Our results, financial statements and charity ratings reaffirm that Save the Children is a charity you can trust. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.