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Young Congolese illegally toil for meagre wages

Republic of Congo

Under the blazing sun of Congo Brazzaville, there are dozens of young men who, on a daily basis take on the task of illegally mining sand for a few dollars a day.

They are toiling on conditions of slavery, which its prohibition is a fundamental principle of international law.

Slave labor however is one of the few alternatives to the unemployment problem in Congo.

After a week of inactivity following the disputed presidential election of 20 March which led to tensions in the capital city, the young men say they must feed their families, while the opposition called for a general strike.

“It’s a tough job, very difficult. Our government is among those who benefit…It does not care about young people,” said a man only known as Glad.

“After a week of inactivity following the presidential election, we must not waste time. But this small artisan business is seasonal career, punctuated by equatorial rain,” he added

He says he is disappointed at the lack of state support in the face of national and international companies operating in Congo.

In the late morning of Easter Monday, the sun eagerly slaps on the bank of the Congo downstream of the “Pool Malebo”, the great basin that forms the most powerful river in Africa east of Brazzaville and Kinshasa, capital the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Shovelful after shovelful, they fill six trucks with sand. Each employee earns 2,000 francs CFA (about $3) per bucket.

“On a very good day, we can do ten bins,” says Andrew, 23, who has been doing this for five years.

“The activity depends on customer orders of the boss, who sells sand primarily to individuals for construction of houses,” says Alfred Mabanza, the head of the quarry.

Sitting near a pile of stones in the shade of a loincloth suspended from the branches of a sickly palm, Leonie, a man in his fifties, says he is “a little mistress of her fate.”

This form of labour and its meager income are needed to offset their family’s expenses. For other families, the lack of financial means to send children to school was the motivation behind working in this riverbank.