How Smart Phones are Fueling Sexual Violence in DRC

Two words any smart phone user fears: Low Battery. But what if each time we powered up our smart phones, the power of a child who helped to make our devices was taken away? That is the sacrifice that children such as 4-year-old Monica make in the Cobalt mines of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where she searches for minerals used to create Lithium-ion batteries.

Exposure to sexual violence and dangerous working conditions are more than just side effects of the demand for smart devices, they reveal a public health crisis powered by international enterprise, armed conflict, and modern day slavery.

According to UNICEF, 40,000 children work in Cobalt mines in the southern Katanga province of the DRC. Unable to attend school, these child laborers are exposed to violence and little-known Cobalt Lung, a potentially fatal disease caused by inhaling hard metal debris.

But what if merely living near a mine increased a girl’s chances of being sexually assaulted? A recent study revealed, “In the Kivus and Maniema, the risk of experiencing non-partner sexual [violence] is particularly high for women that live close to a mine with the presence of an armed actor.” This is the cost of Cobalt.

While job responsibilities are clearly divided between girls and boys, with boys working deep in the mines and girls breaking rocks and sifting through minerals by hand, the rescue efforts that could save these children are gendered, too. It has been brought to the attention of the World Trade Organization “that girls are rarely rescued as they play the multiple roles of scouts, porters, sexual slaves and soldiers.”

You may be surprised to learn that one electric car requires approximately 10-20 pounds of Cobalt. In an effort to cut costs, some companies are shifting towards working with deregulated suppliers. Deregulated mining operations pose the greatest risks to children, as they do not enforce minimum standards or impose safety requirements.

However, with pressure mounting from International Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), several tech companies have pledged to remove child labor from their supply chains. Companies’ responses to supply chain inquiries have been published by the Washington Post, so that we, as conscious consumers, can determine whether we stand behind their corporate ethics.

Discussions between the International Labor Organization and the Congolese government have yielded new commitments to upholding the minimum working age of 15, as outlined in ILO Convention No. 138. The next steps: implementation and ongoing enforcement of international law. Meanwhile, many NGOs and regional partners are continuing to develop comprehensive programs to provide education and vocational training to survivors.

What else can we do as smart device users?

  • Use the hashtag #NotInMyPhone to support Amnesty International’s campaign and ongoing investigations into Cobalt mining practices.
  • Host a screening of the free documentary Maisha: A New Life Outside the Mines

Girls must be central to the Post 2015 Agenda

The health and status of women and girls are inextricably linked to the well-being and prosperity of families, communities, and economies. Yet today, nearly 15 years on from the launch of the MDGs, progress on reproductive health lags seriously behind. Approximately 800 women and girls die every day from complications related to pregnancy or childbirth, and 99 percent of these occur in developing countries.

Infographic c/o Women Deliver

Additionally, over 222 million women have an unmet need for modern contraception. Investing in the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and girls has never been more critical. The largest-ever cohort of young people is entering their reproductive years, and their access to sexual and reproductive health information and services will have enormous implications for the trajectories of their lives. Advancing the reproductive health of women and girls also pays enormous dividends for development – poverty rates go down, education rates go up and greater prosperity follows.

As the 58th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women is underway in New York, USA discussions and negotiations are taking place to shape the post-2015 development agenda.   Hence, now is the time to ensure that sexual and reproductive health and rights is a priority in the post-2015 agenda. I think it is essential that we realise that when we talk about sexual reproductive health and rights we are talking about young women and girls.

As a young woman and youth advocate, I am committed to ensuring that young women and girls are central to the Post 2015 agenda. I say this as the Post 2015 agenda must address the most marginalised populations and as girls and young women are two of these key populations they need to be part of the decision making process. In order to do this young women and girls must be empowered and engaged in meaningful participation. Meaningful engagement of young women can be understood as a series of empowering moments that move in the direction of the ‘decision-making table.’ She can advise, share, sing or cry her opinions on political reforms, policies, programmes and development initiatives that directly affect her and will allow for effective use of resources, both human and natural.

Image c/o Flickr Creative Commons

In a world where ‘one in three women will be beaten or raped in her lifetime,’ successful and sustainable change will require transformative leadership. This means leadership that will challenge and change the status quo and the systems and structures that perpetuate discrimination, inequality and denial of human dignity. In order for this to happen young women and girls need safe spaces to be themselves, share experiences, access information and discuss ‘taboo’ subjects without fear or judgement.

At the World YWCA (where I am lucky enough to work), we have developed a model of safe spaces which has emerged from our programming on sexual reproductive health and rights in Sub-Saharan Africa. Globally there is a frightening unmet need for family planning and as the world’s population saws we must ask ourselves what are we doing to address this? Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest adolescent fertility rate in the world, with girls under the age of 16 years of age facing four times the risk of maternal mortality than women over the age of 20. In Mexico 42% of young men and 26% of young women between 15 and 19 years have had a sexual relationship; only 47% of these young men and 15% of young women had used a condom during their first sexual intercourse. The HIV and AIDS rates are increasing in Eastern Europe. In Nepal 86% of married adolescents aged 15-19 are not using a modern contraceptives, every 4 hours one girl died from pregnancy relation complications. This is a global issue! The lack of adequate, accessible and youth friendly sexual and reproductive health services not only affect the educational and economic opportunities of present and future generations, but threaten their very survival.

Young people, particularly young women, must be educated and empowered on their own sexual reproductive health and rights. Without access to non-judgmental, confidential and evidence-based sexual and reproductive health information and services, young women remain vulnerable to unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortion and sexually transmitted infections. Many young women are confronted with the consequences of early and forced marriage and child bearing.

Girls' Globe blogger Marcia Banasko at CSW58 in New York City
Girls’ Globe blogger Marcia Banasko at CSW58 in New York City

If we are to achieve a world of peace, equality and justice, we must be accountable to the world’s 860 million young women. We are more than a statistic – we are a valuable asset to nations, a critical population group for achieving sustainable human development and our voices must count in shaping the future of humanity. It is essential gender equality is retained as a stand-alone goal and that gender is mainstreamed across all the targets.

For Information:

World YWCA Global Call for Act: The Future Young Women Want

UNFPA Launches Advocacy Platform for Post-2015 Development Framework

Cover image courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons.

State of the World's Mothers Report: Synopsis

“The first hours and days of a baby’s life are especially critical. About three-quarters of all newborn deaths (over 2 million) take place within one week of birth. 36 percent of newborn deaths (over 1 million) occur on the day a child is born.”

~ State of the World’s Mothers Report, Save the Children

In 1990, global leaders, institutions and national governments agreed upon concrete goals to reduce poverty by 2015. Now known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), MDG 4 aims to reduce the under-5 mortality rate by two-thirds and MDG 5 strives to reduce the maternal mortality ratio by 75 percent. Since implementing the MDGs in 1990, maternal deaths from pregnancy and/or childbirth have decreased nearly 50 percent worldwide (543,000 to 287,000). Unfortunately, the global newborn mortality rate has only declined by 32 percent. With 3 million babies still dying within the first year of life (43 percent of the global under-5 mortality rate), clearly much progress can still be made.

Image Courtesy of Save the Children

Yesterday, Save the Children published its State of the World’s Mothers Report, a report that analyzed and summarized the successes, failures, and lessons learned regarding global progress with MDG 4 and MDG 5. Here are the report’s major findings:

  • Helping babies survive the first few days of life poses the greatest challenge to reducing child mortality;
  • Three major causes of death include complications during birth, prematurity, and perinatal infections; and
  • By using proven interventions, creating stronger health systems, and training more skilled health care workers, there is the potential to reduce newborn deaths by up to 75 percent.

Image Courtesy of Save the Children

Globally, there are over 1 million estimated child deaths on the first day of life – equating to 15 percent of all under-5 deaths. Of those first day deaths, 80 percent occur in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

Sub-Saharan Africa

Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), a region accountable for 12 percent of the global population, suffers from 38 percent of the world’s first day deaths (397,000 per year; 34 deaths per 1000 live births). Unfortunately, pregnancy and childbirth also pose incredible risks to mothers. For example, mothers in Somalia face a 1 in 16 risk of dying during pregnancy and/or childbirth (18 maternal deaths per 1000 births). Across the entire region, ten SSA countries ranked as the worst for mothers to give birth and seven countries scored the highest number of first day child deaths.

Image Courtesy of Save the Children

South Asia

In South Asia, approximately 83,000 women die each year during pregnancy and/or childbirth and 423,000 babies die each year on their first day of life (more than any other region in the world). With 24 percent of the global population, the region experiences 41 percent of the world’s first day deaths (420,000 per year; 11 deaths per 1000 live births).

Although most of South Asia has become synonymous with a growing economy, great disparities and inequalities still exist, particularly in India. Enduring the most maternal deaths in the world (56,000 per year) and 29 percent of the world’s first day deaths (309,000 per year), it is safe to say that India’s economic growth benefits are not shared equally.

Although 98 percent of newborn deaths occur in the developing world, 1 percent of first day deaths take place in industrialized nations. Ranked as the developed country with the highest amount of first day deaths, the United States sustains 50 percent more first day deaths than all other industrialized countries combined (11,300 deaths per year).

Highlighting the three most effective proven interventions, the Report advocates for further investments in female education, nutrition, and family planning in order to curb maternal and newborn deaths.

Image Courtesy of Save the Children

Although newborn death is most commonly caused by complications from preterm births, other prenatal and postnatal dangers exist. Therefore, investing in prenatal and postnatal care has also proven incredibly valuable.

For HIV-infected women, mother-to-child transmission rates can be reduced to less than 5 percent with the proper antiretroviral regimen. Similarly, by treating malaria in pregnant women, incidence of newborn low birthweight can decline by 40 percent.

Tetanus, a disease that kills 58,000 mothers and newborns every year, is entirely preventable with a $0.40 vaccination. Often caused by mothers cutting the umbilical cord with unsanitary tools, tetanus also can be avoided by applying chlorhexidine, a $0.25 antiseptic, to the newborn’s umbilical cord.

Other forms of important postnatal care include educating mothers on the importance of breastfeeding, a practice that provides the newborn with essential nutrients, warmth and a strong immunity; “kangaroo mother care,” a simple and effective approach that increases child survival rate in preterm and low birthweight babies by warming newborns through continuous skin-to-skin contact on the mother’s chest; and access to low-cost antibiotics to treat sepsis.

Does your country rank in the top or bottom 10 for maternal health?

Image Courtesy of Save the ChildrenAlthough much progress has been made since 1990, we must continue to push for improved maternal and child health care around the world – particularly in the Post 2015 Agenda.


All images courtesy of Save the Children.