child labor diamond mine sierra leone

Child Labor -What if you had a diamond mined by a child-

Brilliant diamond jewelry in a fancy shop—don’t be fooled–likely some of these diamond jewelry pieces are made with diamonds that small children had been forced to mine. Such children usually work during the daytime, so they don’t get the chance to go to school.

What is “child labor”?

Child labor is against the law. It is illegal to force children under certain ages to work. It is illegal for 14 year old and younger to work. Also it is not allowed for 17 and younger to do hazardous work which may have potential to harm children’s health and safety.

Child labor is something different from helping one’s household. Helping someone doesn’t ethically harm minors’ education, health, and safety. On the other hand, child labor means that children work all day even when they need to go to school. Some small children work until midnight which is illegal.

In many cases, children must work for their families because of poverty. Some are forced to work by their parents, others work voluntarily for a living. Some adults buy children whose parents sell them for money and force the children into labor.

A World where children must work -Child Labor-

According to statistics reported in 2012 by ILO, International Labor Organization, the number of children who must work is 168 million[i]. This means that 11% of the population from 5-17 years old must work across the world. The worst area is the Sub-Sahara region in Africa. (Northern Africa was excluded.) Twenty-one percent of the workforce is made up of child labor. (This shows that one out of five are in the laborforce.)

Half of these children work under so-called “the worst condition[ii].” One example is working in a mine: it is assigned as “hazardous work” in “the worst condition.” Such labor includes working with harmful substance such as mercury, as well as working near cranes, landslides, and being involved in unexpected accidents such as drowning. Such dangerous labor environments preclude children from growing healthy.

Child labor related to the diamond industry has grown in two main areas; diamond mines in Africa  (1) and polishing factories in India (2).

1) Child labor in diamond mines

U.S. Department of Labor in 2014[iii] statistics show that child labor is conducted in Republic of Angola, Republic of Sierra Leone, Republic of Liberia, Central African Republic, Republic of the Congo, and Republic of Guinea.

Working in diamond mines is heavy labor: Children carry 50-60 kg of gravel from mines to workplaces and then look for only tiny diamonds by panning the gravel. Those children are easily exploited because they are cheap to use. They are also preferred as they are able to enter narrow areas using ropes for mining diamonds. They search for diamonds in puddles where mosquitos could cause malaria. Furthermore, they have a risk of getting injured from falling down and dying from fights.

During the Sierra Leone civil war that lasted for ten years, the national income there had counted on child soldiers and miners. It eventually became part of a source for anti-governmental organizations.

When the civil war ended in 2002, Kimberley Process Certification Scheme was issued to avoid the distribution of so-called “blood diamonds.” However, child labor does still exist, and children are only paid 0.15-0.6 U.S. dollars a day, if they are contracted by a performance-based reward. If they are not contracted on a performance-based reward, they only get 2.10 dollars at the maximum. This figure is less than daily income for adult miners, according to a study[iv].

There are various reasons why children have to work in diamond mines. Some parents or relatives take their children to mines to help them. In this case, they don’t get paid because they are only helping their relatives. Some other parents and relatives sell their children to make them work because of poverty. There are orphans, too.

These children suffer from starvation under terrible situations.

2) Child labor in polishing factories[v]

India is the center of the cutting and polishing industry for gemstones including diamonds. Gujarat State is especially related to the industry, and 85% of world’s diamonds are cut and polished in that state. This figure is equal to 57% of the world’s market. India is now one of the top diamond distributers, and “cheap labor” has been supporting its business.  The diamond industry includes labor-intensive processes such as cutting and polishing. Cutting is one of four Cs – cutting, carat, color, and clarity, and it is the most important step in achieving a high grade sparkle in a diamond.

It is said that children can do such work considerably better than adults. They usually have good eyesight and finger agility and skill to ensure high quality of diamonds. Small and cheap diamonds imported to India are cut and polished by children. India makes substantial income from such diamonds. The risk of harming their health is unavoidable in dark factories with no fans. Polishing material is made of chromium oxide and diamond powder, which has a severe impact on the body when touched directly for long periods of time.

Children are usually made to work by their families to earn their living expenses. Some of them are forced to be “labor for debts” by their parents or relatives. According to a report, they only get paid about 30 dollars per month for polishing diamonds 7-9 hours a day[vi].

Can’t children be protected by a law?

Child labor is banned and ratified by international treaties[vii] in many countries. And most of countries have laws to ban child labor. Many developed countries including Japan have their own audit systems for labor so that they can administer the laws.

However, some laws don’t function in many developing countries despite the existence of the laws against child labor. This is the biggest issue in these countries.

[Photo] A thirteen-year-old child (left) working at a diamond mine in Kono district in Sierra Leone (Photography: Diamonds for Peace, 2012)


[i] Governance and Tripartism Department, 2013, “Making Progress against child labor Global estimates and trends 2000-2012,” International Labor Office (International Labor Organization (ILO)),—ed_norm/—ipec/documents/publication/wcms_221513.pdf (Accessed 28 March 2015)

[ii] The worst forms of child labor as defined by “Article 3 of ILO Convention No. 182:

(a) all forms of slavery or practices similar to slavery, such as the sale and trafficking of children, debt bondage and serfdom and forced or compulsory labor, including forced or compulsory recruitment of children for use in armed conflict;
(b) the use, procuring or offering of a child for prostitution, for the production of pornography or for pornographic performances;
(c) the use, procuring or offering of a child for illicit activities, in particular for the production and trafficking of drugs as defined in the relevant international treaties;
(d) work which, by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out, is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children.”

[iii] List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor(U.S. Department of Labor 2014)  (Accessed 28 March 2015)

[iv] International Human Rights Clinic, 2009, “Digging in the Dirt,” International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School, (Accessed 28 March 2015)

[v] Rumani Saikia Phikan, 2015, “Child Labour in Diamond Industry Continues in India Despite Abolition,” Maps of India, (Accessed 28 March 2015)

[vi] “Child Slave Labor in India’s Diamond Industry” (May 2005) (Accessed 28 March 2015)

[vii] ILO Conventions and Recommendations on child labor–en/index.htm (Accessed 10 April 2017)