by Eboni Retemiah
"Diamonds are forever" it is often said. But lives are not. We must spare people the ordeal of war, mutilations and death for the sake of conflict diamonds." The beautiful stones of Sierra Leone are a natural element of our earth and a luxury for many. Though many are never told and do not ask these diamonds are a product of slavery, violence, and death of children and innocent citizens. Sierra Leone is notorious for its "blood diamonds" which helped fuel a brutal 1991-2002 civil war, made famous by images of drugged up child soldiers and mutilated civilians.
What are blood diamonds?
Blood diamonds are diamonds that are implicated in horrific human rights abuses including diamond-fueled violence, child labor, and environmental destruction. Diamond-fueled violence includes diamonds illegally traded to fund conflict in war-torn areas, particularly in central and western Africa. The United Nations (UN) defines conflict diamonds as "...diamonds that originate from areas controlled by forces or factions opposed to legitimate and internationally recognized governments, and are used to fund military action in opposition to those governments, or in contravention of the decisions of the Security Council." This narrow definition does not include state sanctioned violence, local brutality in diamond mining, or any other human rights abuses.
The industry of diamonds in Sierra Leone
The first diamond in Sierra Leone was found in the 1930. By 1935 production of diamonds started. In 1975, seven years after gaining their independence, the Prime Minister Siaka Stevens turned diamonds into a major industry for Sierra Leone. He created the National Diamond Mining Company in 1971. This made it so that all important decisions were made by the prime minister and he appointed. He made a lot of profit by illegally mining and trading diamonds.
The Civil War
In 1991 a rebel group known as RUF, the Revolutionary United Front started attacks against the central government of Sierra Leone. Even after a military was set up they could not stop the attacks of the RUF. The RUF was allied with the country Liberia, Sierra Leone’s neighboring country, and their goals first were commit crimes and corruption within Sierra Leone. This goal soon changed into wanting control over the diamond mines. The RUF would take innocent civilians and force them to work at the mines. The most common workers started becoming children. They were put to work in harsh conditions and punished for small things. One of their most common punishments was amputation. Children were taken to the north-eastern district of Kono where they were used as combatants and laborers in the diamond mines of Koidu.
Children of War
In the ten year civil war Sierra Leone had, children soldiers became a common thing. It is a common thing to see children not going to school but instead being trained to fight and kill. Though people might say that the government should handle this, they are the people behind the training of children soldiers. Children are used as combats and cooks, informants, porters, bodyguards, sentries, and spies. Many child soldiers belong to organized military units, wear uniforms, and receive explicit training, their lethality enhanced by the widespread availability of lightweight assault weapons. Other children participate in relatively unstructured but politically motivated acts of violence, such as throwing stones or planting bombs. Some children are even forced to join the war after witnessing their parents being murdered.
Children of the mines
Several thousands of kids worked in the mines throughout the years of the war and even after the war, still do. Majority of these children get blessings from their parents who see them as the ones to make the money for the family. These children age range from seven to sixteen. Some children who are homeless or an orphan are forced to the work for adults who do not feel like doing it, but these children don’t get the money they have worked for. The children of the mines have no are barely and education because as soon as they are old enough to work they have to go to the mines. “The children and youth are faced with abysmal working conditions which put them at risk of accidents and diseases and expose them to collapsing mine pits.” A report showed that some children as young as ten years old had to transport bags gravel weighing between 30 and 60 kilograms on their heads. They are forced to work from sunrise to sunset without proper food or medical care.
In European countries and the United States many never questioned where the diamonds they were purchasing came from. The thousands of dollars paid for these diamonds are not being given to the children working at the mines but to those smuggling them. The average pay for the children in the mines ranges from five hundred to two thousand Leones which is fifteen to sixty cents in U.S. currency. The children are promised to have a bonus if they find diamonds but it’s up to payer how much they get.
The children of Sierra Leone suffer for the luxury of the rest of the world. They are put to fight a civil war they have nothing to do with and forced to work in harsh conditions in the mines. These children experience violence, cruelty and death for a mere stone. The Sierra Leone government is corrupt and involves themselves in these illegal acts. So many have children have died for this war and many still enslaved but in the near years there is hope that this child slavery will finally come to a stop.