Source: The Guardian Unlimited
Rape victims in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo are being forced to work in conditions of slavery in mines producing the gold, coltan and tin ore needed to manufacture jewellery, mobile phones and laptops, a Guardian investigation has found.
The girls and women fled their villages after being raped by one or more of the militias terrorising the region. Traditionally the women were engaged in farming but their fields are in forests occupied by rebels and growing food has become too dangerous. Instead they are forced into exploitative work in mines to survive.
“If you choose to get food from the field you have to accept that you’re going to be raped,” said Patience Kengwa, 30, who works at Kamituga gold mine. She fled her village, Luliba, after being raped five times in two and a half years. Now she pounds rocks and carries heavy sacks, earning between 50 cents and a dollar a day.
Dominique Bikaba, director of Strong Roots, an environmental charity that works with miners to improve their conditions, has condemned the situation.
“These girls and women are working in the mines in conditions of slavery. They earn less than a dollar a day and are often forced to work harder than they are physically capable of working,” he said.
Various militias have been fighting each other in east Congo for more than a decade, raping and looting with impunity. The greed for Congo’s vast mineral wealth has made the situation worse. Even the UN mission in Congo, Monusco, which has 19,000 peacekeepers costing $1.4bn (£8.7m) a year, is implicated in illegal practices involving minerals.
Recently, a UN truck carrying a tonne of cassiterite was stopped by the Congolese authorities trying to cross the border from Congo to Rwanda. The UN has confirmed that it is investigating.
Congo’s mineral resources are estimated at $24tn, more than the combined GDP of Europe and America.