The Darker side of all that glitters: Do you know if your if your Jewelry is Child Abuse free?
By Prabalta Rijal
Feb 12, Oslo: As Valentine’s Day arrives, brining with joy and love, we rush to stores to buy our special someone a special gift. A ring perhaps or a heart pendant.
After all we have always been told that a ‘diamond is a woman’s best friend’. But have we ever stopped to think where the diamond and the gold we wear with such pride is coming from, are you sure that you aren’t wearing jewelry that isn’t tainted with blood of an innocent child in a diamond or gold mine, thousands of miles away?
An estimated 90 million carats of rough diamonds and 1,600 tons of gold are mined for jewelry every year, generating over US$300 billion in revenue, but have you ever thought about where its coming from, or if children are being abused in the mining process?
According to a report by the International Labour Organization and other organizations, an estimated 1 million children are working in mines worldwide.
Children in gold mines:
“Gold mining is extremely dangerous work for children. Yet still today, tens of thousands are found in the smallscale gold mines of Africa, Asia and South America,” a report by ILO states.
These children are made to work both above and underground. While working in the tunnels and mine shafts the children are exposed to risks like death from an explosion , tunnel collapse and rock fall. The air is filled with toxic gases from the mining and dust, which in the long run causes breathing problems and serious respiratory conditions (such as silicosis), constant headaches, hearing and sight problems, joint disorders and various dermatological, muscular and orthopaedic ailments and wounds, jeopardizing both their mental and physical long-term health
While children working on the ground are made to work for hours in the sun as they dig, crush, mill and haul ore and are at risk of falling into pits that are scattered around the area and they are in danger of mercury poisoning.While working in small scale gold mines children as young as 6 years old are also exposed to mercury , which is needed to extract the gold from its ore. What is worse is that high levele of mercury can seep into the soil, and into water supllies causing mercury poisoning.
And prolonged exposure to mercury can lead to mercury can lead to serious physical disorders and neurological problems.ILO’s report on child labour in small scale gold mines indicates that in of the small-scale gold mining in the Sahel region of Africa (Niger and Burkina Faso) children under 18 tend to make up to 30-50 per cent of the entire orpailleur workforce (estimated at between 200,000 and 500,000 across the two countries) and 70 per cent of the children are under the age of 15, indicating that children start working from a young age.
“In Burkina Faso and Niger, children are engaged in almost all aspects of the mining operation, from rock breaking and transport to washing, crushing/pounding and mineral dressing. Children are particularly “useful” in underground gold deposits as their small size and agility allows them to more easily work in the narrow shafts and galleries,” IPEC stated.
Children in Diamond mines
Similarly, diamond mines are no safe haven for children, it is believed that approximately 46 percent of the workforce in Diamond mines in countries like Angola are made up of children between 5- 15 years. Although many people argue that blood diamonds have stopped and children are not being used in diamond mines, because of the Kimberly certification process, well think again.
According to Swedwatch, the failure of European companies to check their supply chains and an extremely flawed diamond certification scheme is again fuelling child labour and sexual abuse in artisanal mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo. According to the organization, “thousands of children work illegally in diamond mines in Congo’s diamond-rich Kasai region - mainly to pay for food and school fees - and girls who live around the mines are prey to rape, forced marriage and prostitution.”
Similarly according to Human Rights Watch, conditions in these mines are brutal and children have been injured and killed while working in small-scale gold or diamond mines. “Indigenous peoples and other local residents near mines have been forcibly displaced. In war, civilians have suffered enormously as abusive armed groups have enriched themselves by exploiting gold and diamonds. Mines have polluted waterways and soil with toxic chemicals, harming the health and livelihoods of whole communities,” the organization stated in a report published earlier this week.
According to them, out of the 13 leading jewelers they interviewed only a very few knew where they were getting their jewelry from and not many were aware of the shady suppliers in their supply chains.
Case Studies By HRW:
A Human Rights Watch team met “Peter,” age 15, at an artisanal and small-scale gold mine in Odahu, Amansie West district, Ghana’s Ashanti region in March 2016. Peter and several other children were digging ore out of deep, unsecure pits that were placed underneath a mass of hard rock. Peter also used toxic mercury, without being aware of the health risks. Peter described his life:
“I am working at the old Chinese mining site. I bring the load up from the ground, I dig. I also do the washing [processing of the gold ore]. I use mercury, and get it from the gold buyer… I started about two years ago…. I use the money [I earn] to buy food and clothes, and give some to my mother. I am here every day, from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m…. I dropped out of school in P5 [5th grade of primary school]. I was unable to buy my things for school…. I wish I could have stayed in school.”
In Jose Panganiban, in the Philippines, “Joseph,” 16, mines gold underwater, sometimes diving for hours, breathing through a tube. He told Human Rights Watch in November 2014:
I started working when I was 12. Sometimes I help pull out the bags, and sometimes I go underwater. It’s just like digging with a shovel, and putting it in a sand bag. [To breathe] I use the compressor…. I bite the hose and release it whenever I need air, inhale, and exhale through my nose…. At first, it was hard to think about going down… I don’t use goggles. I basically don’t use my eyes. I use my hands to look for the passage, the canal…. Sometimes you have to make it up fast, especially if you have no air in your hose if the machine stops working. It’s a normal thing [for the compressor to stop working]. It’s happened to me.
I get a skin disease. It’s not itchy, and it doesn’t hurt. But the color of the skin changes. It gets red. I get it on my face…. I can smell [the fumes from the compressor] when they are transferring fuel. I can smell it because it travels down the hose…. If I work so hard underwater, I get tired.
In Chunya district, Tanzania in December 2012, Human Rights Watch interviewed “Rahim,” a 13-year-old boy who was involved in a mining accident. Rahim described his harrowing experience:
“I was digging with my colleague. I entered into a short pit. When I was digging he told me to come out, and when I was about to come out, the shaft collapsed on me, reaching the level of my chest … they started rescuing me by digging the pit and sent me to Chunya hospital.”
The accident, Rahim told Human Rights Watch, knocked him unconscious and caused internal injuries. He remained in the hospital for about a week and over a year later still occasionally felt pain in his abdomen.
Central African Republic.
So, this year if you are planning to buy your loved one a ring or a necklace or any other kind of jewelry, ask your jeweler if they know where their gold and diamonds are coming from.
The Oslo Times International News Network