Why diamond rings aren’t always romantic

On every married woman’s hand in the western world you’re likely to see an engagement ring. The ultimate ring that’s been marketed to women for the past 50 years has been a diamond. I’m no exception, but I now know I’m a hypocrite and I’m not alone. Why? Because in post-conflict and war zones like Angola, a country I visited in 2004 only two years after peace ended its 27-year civil war, diamond mining involves thousands of children, ages 5 to 16.

My first question when I arrived in Lubanga, Angola was what I could uncover to report on beyond a new hospital that the SIM (Serving In Mission) missionaries were helping with. To start, knowing a bit about Sierra Leone’s blood diamonds, I asked several simple questions. What are the working conditions in the diamond mines? Do children work there? If so, how many?

I asked to travel there but my missionary hosts with SIM told me it was far “too dangerous”. I am trained as an international correspondent, or at least that’s what I specialized in during my final year in Carleton University’s four-year journalism program, and some of my peers have covered wars as foreign correspondents. As a woman I was afraid to travel with a translator I’d only just met.

Even though I wasn't the one who had the privilege to tell this story, thankfully it was still told.

In 2011, a book appeared by an Angolan journalist, Rafael Marques and it was quickly censored and the journalist taken to court. He wrote in Blood Diamonds: Corruption and Torture in Angola, how miners are beaten with metal cables, slashed with machetes and hit with the but of guns. Most live in abject poverty. And now it has become clear that statistically many of the victims of this violence and torture are children. A lot of people are murdered, Marques book claimed.

Throughout Africa, one million diamond miners are paid less than a dollar a day. The New York Times has reported on this extensively as well as on “conflict diamonds”—or those extracted from war zones.

After the war in Angola, the Kimberly Process, was signed stipulating that all of the diamonds Angola exports must be “conflict free”. The government makes $150 million a year in Angola off diamond mining. International companies make big profits too. Yet, “security guards” and military personnel guard these mines with machine guns pointed at the miners—even the children.

The kind of tasks the children have include carrying heavy bags of gravel and digging with shovels. Sometimes, they go into dangerous conditions like narrow mine shafts or under water areas. It is a sure-fire scenario for a child to get hurt or injured.

Next time you buy a diamond ring to celebrate your love or ‘just because’, it’s food for thought. It could be funding a war which involves child soldiers and it may also be the fact that a child was exploited. It might be nearly impossible to make a direct link between what you buy in the store and a child’s life being torn apart, but we know from what we see in other countries that these diamonds are flowing out of countries like Angola to places like Dubai and even, several years back, the London newspapers read England.

If this is true, think about whether life’s little luxuries are really a sign that you love your neighbour as yourself, as the Bible says.

Christian groups like SIM and World Vision Canada decry slavery and child labour, but even some of their workers (like formerly myself) wear diamond rings and we cannot know whether they came from conflict zones because of smuggling. Had I known that in 2001 when I became engaged, I might not have chosen a diamond to symbolize my love and eternal joining with my husband.

A smiling child in one community that a person sponsors through child sponsorship with World Vision, Christian Children’s Fund or Compassion means changing the life of some. Some of Christian charities continue to seek to gain entry and to work with people in countries post-conflict in spite of violence and corruption, we need to make sure we support them generously.

To help all children means working with our government and the industry selling diamonds to make sure blood diamonds aren’t smuggled to our western markets. We must take an interest in international affairs and act locally to help the vulnerable especially children.

We must bring more hopeful circumstances to these children. Maybe some would say that Christians are trying to be the Saviours of the world. But when a little boy is quoted in The New York Times as saying “This is my only hope, really,” as he crouched down in the mud looking for a diamond in rural Africa, maybe we as Christians around the world should respond.


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