Minerals mined in conditions of armed conflict and human rights abuses are called “conflict minerals.” The violent exploitation of natural resources has been a persistent problem in the Great Lakes Region of sub-Saharan Africa for much of its history. In recent times, it has ignited one of the world’s deadliest conflicts since World War II. Since 1998 after the Rwandan genocide, more than five million people have died in the fighting as armies of six neighbouring countries fight to gain control of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) vast natural resources. Millions more have been displaced, fleeing abuses by governments and rebel groups alike. The illegal trade in minerals is sustaining the combatants and has contributed to unprecedented levels of violence against women and children and to the spread of HIV/AIDS. Stephen Lewis has characterized the situation as a “savage war on women.”
More than half of all mines (and all but one major mine) in eastern DRC are controlled by armed groups, many of them using mass rape as a deliberate strategy to intimidate and control local populations in order to secure control of the mines, trading routes and other strategic areas. At 48 rapes per hour, DRC has the highest rate of rape in the world. Children make up nearly 40% of the mining work force and others are forced into combat roles. Although 31,000 children from DRC battlefields have been demobilized since 1999, at least 8,000 are still being used as combatants, porters and sex slaves.
Conflict minerals have created a blood-chilling environment for grandmothers and the children in their care.
Minerals in everyday consumer products fuel the conflict
The minerals being fought over are tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold. Most of these minerals are extracted from the eastern DRC and pass through a string of intermediaries before being purchased by multinational electronics companies for use in electronic devices. They are also used in products such as jewellery, tin cans and light bulbs.
 From a speech by Stephen Lewis to the World Health Editors Network, November 26, 2007. http://www.stephenlewisfoundation.org/news-resources/news-articles?month=11&year=2007#article-3150
 Jewish World Watch. Child soldiers. http://www.jewishworldwatch.org/conflictareas/congo/overview/child-soldiers. Accessed March 1, 2014.