Inside the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Diamond Mines – by Aryn Baker (Time Magazine – August 27, 2015)

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, almost all diamond mining is done by hand. It’s a labor-intensive process that requires hauling away layers of dirt and rock, sometimes 50 feet deep, to expose ancient beds of gravel where the crystals are found. Miners then wash and sift that gravel one shovelful at a time in search of tiny glints of light that might be a diamond.

If they are lucky, a peppercorn-size crystal could fetch them a few dollars, once the mine owner gets his take. In New York’s diamond district such a gem, cut and polished, would be worth several hundred dollars.

Lynsey Addario and I journeyed to the heart of Congo’s diamond mining district in August to report on an $81.4 billion industry that links the miners of Tshikapa with the glittering salesrooms of the world’s jewelry retailers.

It was an arduous trip, one that required an internal flight on an airline that has been blacklisted by the European Union for its shaky safety record, followed by long 4×4 drives on red dirt tracks down to the mining sites.

Sometimes we had to take motorbikes, or boats, to reach the mines. Some of the richest gravel beds can be found at the bottom of the rivers that snake through the region. There, miners siphon gravel from deep under water using pumps mounted on rickety pontoons.

In January, the provincial government banned child labor in Tshikapa’s diamond mines, but with few other options for income, along with a lack of schools, many children, like 15-year-old Mbuyi Mwanza, have no choice but to work in the mines.

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