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Exploited Cobalt-mining boys given hope - but many still suffer

SOURCE (Sky News): Sky news reports that children continue to work long hours in cobalt mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) - months after multinational corporations insisted they had cracked down on this exploitation.

multiple assurances from international companies about changing work practices and tightening up supply lines, we have found nothing has changed in practice on the ground.

The boys will get a crash course in reading and writing before going on to their new school in September

Special report: Child miners given ticket to a brighter future.

After an overwhelming response to our report earlier this year, with offers of donations and adoption for the children featured in the report, as well as a White House petition demanding changes, we returned to the impoverished African country to try to find some of the young people involved.

Alex Crawford's journey to find child labourer

We found the two young boys we had met carrying sacks of cobalt in the pouring rain were still hard at work mining one of the most desirous minerals on Earth today - but earning barely enough to stay alive.

If anything, the situation in the remote informal mining community we discovered in the former Katanga Province is worse. The miners are finding it harder to trace the mineral after several years of digging it out by hand.

Eight-year-old Dorsen and his friend Richard, who is a few years older than him, were both tired and dirty when we found them again.

They were still spending their days shifting sacks filled with soil as adult miners dug fresh tunnels in the effort to find the cobalt.

Dorsen, seen in February, was barely earning enough money to eat

The mineral has become one of the most sought-after as it is an essential ingredient in batteries used to power the smartphones which earn billions in profits.

But despite DRC being home to more than half the world's cobalt, its citizens are amongst the poorest on Earth. And Dorsen and Richard are among them.

Video:Young children mine cobalt for smartphones

Their plight prompted directors at a joint British-DRC charity who saw our report to offer the boys hope.

The Kimbilio charity (which means children's sanctuary in Swahili) offered the chance to Dorsen and Richard to be housed and educated until 18 at their boarding school in Lubumbashi, the provincial capital of former Katanga Province.

Miners are finding it harder to locate cobalt used in smartphones

But the opportunity of learning how to read and write, the possibility of learning a skill, the chance of getting paid work in the future which does not involve going down a mine would also mean leaving everything and everyone they have ever known and travelling many, many kilometres away - for the bulk of their childhood.

We outlined the opportunity to the fathers of the boys (both of their mothers have died).

At first Dorsen's father, Yassant, was deeply sceptical and very suspicious.

"Why are you so interested in Dorsen," he asked.

"He is the only thing I have. It's just me and him. He is my future."

The two of them have been living in a tarpaulin held up by branches since Dorsen was a one-year-old.

Inside there were two tin plates, scraped of food but unwashed. A small plastic tub with the top half cut off sat nearby with about eight inches of water in it, gathered from a remote water source and hauled home.

Yassant explained he had not found cobalt for days now so neither of them had eaten.

He was digging their fourth tunnel, he told us. The previous three had collapsed.

"I should reach cobalt within a week, I hope," he said.

"We have to find minerals. If I found lots, I could send him to school... but we don't ever have money.

"We're condemned because we can't send our children to study. But it's because the little money we get isn't enough even to feed them."

He agreed to meet one of the charity's directors if we brought him to the community.

The following day, we returned with Kimbilio's director Jean Bosco Tshiswaka-Kabeya, a tall, gentle and quietly spoken religious man.

He sat down with the boys' fathers and outlined the chance of an education for both their sons.

It was undoubtedly an opportunity the men never thought they would ever be able to afford for them.

Almost immediately, Richard's father said yes. Dorsen's father hesitated, then nodded.

"Do you want to prepare them," said Mr Tshiswaka-Kabeya.

The realisation hit Dorsen's father. He jumped up. Boy and father walked quickly to their home.

Yassant carried out his tub of precious water and a rolled up scrap of plastic netting and a pinch of washing powder.

"Come, you must wash," he told Dorsen.

Dorsen stood obediently outside the tarpaulin home in front of his father as he dipped the scrap of plastic into the powder and then the water and lathered his mud-covered son.

Alex Crawford's journey to find child labourer

He spoke quietly to him as he scrubbed. "Dorsen, go and study hard. Don't fight with anyone. Don't worry. I will come to see you. Don't think I'm going to stay here and die, no. I'll be here for you."

As the two walked back into the home to put on Dorsen's only other t-shirt, I heard the young boy say to his father: "But you'll be here alone Papa."

At eight years old, he was worrying about the father he was about to leave behind in poverty.

Then the two boys climbed into our vehicle alongside Richard's father who wanted to check out the school on behalf of both families, and we set off.

The two boys excitedly leaned out of the windows as they waved goodbye to their mining lives.

Several hours later we were in Lubumbashi and the boys stepped out to be greeted by the eight other boys in the transit Kimbilio house.

The boys here are those identified as vulnerable, discovered alone on streets or simply in need of a secure place to stay for a while

They mostly stay just for a few months until the charity feels they are able to return to the family home.

Few are lucky enough to go on to the full-time boarding house on the other side of town.

Dorsen and Richard climbed into bunk beds and slept on a mattress for the first time in their lives.

Next morning, they were kitted out in fresh, clean new uniforms and given a tour of the school they will start in the new in September.

Video:Are you holding a product of child labour right now?

Before then, they will get a crash course in reading and writing at the transit home.

For boys who have spent all their lives doing manual work, the concentration needed to write letters on the blackboard was written all over their faces.

Most of Kimbilio's funding comes from Britain - 95%, the DRC branch told us.

It is a British-run charity with much support from the Anglican churches in both the UK and DRC.