The Slave Children who Cut Diamonds.

The photographs above and below are of a young boy I met cutting diamonds in a factory in Surat, India opened by Antony Oppenhemer. Sharp young eyes are prized in the diamond cutting trade. He was among the many children recruited every year from impoverished Gujerat villages that find themselves trapped into what the UN condemns as slavery.

They are paid so badly that they have to borrow from the workshop owner to visit home. They then are not allowed to change jobs until the debt is repaid - so they have to pay whatever pay they are offered - and they are not offered enough to repay their debt. They are trapped. They have fallen into "debt bondage" , a UN recognised form of slavery. In 2002 they were paid on average just 25c American per diamond cut and polished. They cut on average about 4 to 6 diamonds a day. About 90% of the world's gem diamonds are cut in India - many in workshops employing these children.

In the photographs below you can see children working in two different kinds of Indian workshops. The one on the sight was a large factory like building - the one on the left is the more typical. They sit on the floor by their diamond cutting wheels, legs next to fast spinning belts and wheels. As half a diamond may be ground away during the cutting and polishing process, everything gets covered in black diamond dust - and the workers breathe it in. Hardly any machines were fitted with dust filters - or with guards to protect from the machinery. India classifies diamond cutting as one of its most hazardous

The diamond cutting workshop owners officially register every few square yards of their workshop floor as a separate workshop - for this keeps the number of workers employed per "workshop" below the statutory number required for the Factory safty laws to apply. This leaves the workers totally unprotected.

From these workshops the diamonds are sent to be sold in America, Japan and Europe for very high prices.

Yet they have cost on average about 25c to be cut and polished - and from $2 to $12 for every 1/10th of a gram (a carat) to be mined.

In January 2001 there were riots in the streets of Indian diamond cutting cities when the workers had their wages cut per diamond cut and polished from 40c American to just 20c. This was not enough to support a family even in the most miserable of circumstances. The rioters managed to force up the price paid - but only to 25c. Things are not getting better but worse in the diamond trade - and sadly the percentage was increasing in 2001 of children working in the industry.

This to my mind, is one of the atrocities that need to be brought to an end by the campaign against 'Blood Diamonds."


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c2002 Janine Roberts

All Photos by Janine Roberts c2002 All Rights Reserved