Before I had ever heard of the tiny West African country of Sierra Leone’, my vision of a diamond miner was a jolly little dwarf whistling away, wielding a pick axe and piling mounds of sparkling gems into old mine carts. The I read the book Blood Diamonds: Tracing the Deadly Path of the Worlds Most Precious Stones, by Greg Campbell. This book opened my eyes to the truth about diamonds and the child slavery in Sierra Leone’.
Across the globe the very word diamond brings to mind images of sophistication, elegance, love and wealth, but not to the children of Sierra Leone’. Where diamonds became the focal point of a brutal civil war that was prolonged by the income generated from the sales of diamonds, by rebel forces. Conflict diamonds are valued “between 4 percent and 15 percent of the world total” and generate annual trade revenues of 7.5 billon dollars. (World Press, Brown 2005)
In March of 1991 a brutal civil war broke out in Sierra Leone’, it lasted for ten long years. During the civil war a lot children became separated from their families and with no way to survive they turned to the mining companies for work. These children who range in age from 7 to 16, dig under the impression that one stone will change their lives. They were willing to work for weeks or even months bent over in shallow rivers or pits in the hope of finding that “magic stone”. However many times the children are not lost but kidnapped. Children are snatched up while playing in the streets then forced into the mines by their kidnappers. The children are chained to the rocks in the mines so they can not escape. The punishment is brutal if they try to escape, so there is no hope that the children can get free and return to their former lives. If one child tries to escape, they are beaten as an example for other children. The children are also beaten for lack of production, suspicion of theft or simply for sport.
Studies have revealed that more than 30% of the children get tuberculosis, due to the unhygienic conditions. Over crowding, and malnutrition. (Molina 2006) It is also reported that diamond miners are exposed to malaria, dysentery, and sexual diseases. (Molina 2006) In addition to those diseases many child miners suffer from eye strain, headaches, leg and shoulder pain, rotten teeth and respiratory problems. Most of the children earn no money at all and those that do earn wages only earn about 930 rupees (approximately 30 U.S. dollars) per month for work they perform for upwards to 14 hours per day. (Campbell, 121)
It is a well known fact that the major corporation of DeBeers Diamonds has been in Sierra Leone’ since early 1880. They hold the world’s largest percent of the diamond industry. (Molina 2006) They have begun a campaign to place controls on the diamond trade and mining industry indicating that they are no longer using child labor to mine the diamonds in DeBeers mines. Although this controversy is varied by many different people. There is evidence that DeBeers is still using child labor and is claiming that they are paying better prices for the work done. They also claim that they are placing schools, and healthcare facilities in Sierra Leone’. I personally do not have any way to verify this information but upon investigation into their claims, it is more likely that this is propaganda put out by their advertising agencies to keep selling and purchase of these diamonds on the raise.
Many steps have been taken to try and stop the practice of child slavery in Sierra Leone’. Some of these steps were taken by the Clinton Administration to implement a country-of-origin certification system called the Kimberly Process which requires verification that a diamond does not come from a conflict zone. Unfortunately according to Amnesty International, “government controls in the United States and in other countries are not strong enough or enforced effectively enough to stop rebel groups from exploiting diamonds to fuel conflict”. (Campbell, 209) These systems don’t even begin to target the real problem children face working under such poor and inhumane conditions. There are many steps that the world as a whole can do to help put a stop to the slavery of children in Sierra Leone’. Special long-term UN Security forces must be deployed to all major diamond areas. Attention should be given to blocking or destabilizing major smuggling routes from Sierra Leone’ into neighboring countries. The united nations and the government in Sierra Leone’ also need to set up an effective and honest monitoring and inspection system, they must be established throughout the mining and trading system. And last but certainly not least we as consumers need to take the necessary steps to verify and make sure that any diamonds that we purchase do not come from conflict zones. When you say to yourself, “How will we get them to implement these new rules and regulations,” think about what would happen if some of the major purchasers of diamonds were to simply say “we will not buy from you until clear international guidelines have been developed to prove the origin of each diamond.” Then the government of Sierra Leone’ would be forced to make the necessary changes to protect and provide for the children who suffer in the diamond mines everyday.
Although every step we take as a united front seems rather small, everyone should remember that with a mustard seed we can move mountains. The lives of thousands of children in Sierra Leone’ depend on the rest of us making a difference.
1. “Blood Diamonds” Brown. 13 Dec. 2006.www.worldpress.org>
2. “Diamond-Trafficking”. Nee. 25 November. 2004.www.anti- slaverysociety.addr.com>
3. “Diamonds are Forever”. Molina. 19 November. 2005 www.indiannagos.com>
4. Campbell, Greg. Blood Diamonds: Tracing the Deadly Path of the Worlds MostPrecious Stones. New York: Westview Press, 2004