Bloody Tanzanite

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - Commentary

by Daniel Nardini

It is more rare than diamonds. In fact, it is only found in one country in the world—Tanzania. Discovered in 1967, this rare gemstone is called tanzanite after the country it was found in. When mined it resembles a reddish color. However, after being polished and heated, it forms a beautiful purple and blue color sought by gem experts. Used in jewelry around the world, tanzanite can cost thousands and tens of thousands of dollars just for one small piece no larger than the length of someone’s finger. Found only in Mererani in northern Tanzania, tanzanite brings in over U.S. $1 billion in cash to this poor country.

But this precious gemstone also has a dark side to it. Besides company operations using the latest technology to mine tanzanite, A number of Tanzanian companies also employ children to mine the precious gemstone. Why children? Because they can be paid less money, are able to get into deep and narrow mines more easily than adults, and are willing to put in hours and days looking for the precious gemstone. The Tanzanian government states that any and all companies that employ children will have their licenses revoked, and the companies fined. But the widespread use of child labor for mining tanzanite means for all due purposes that the practice is widespread because the government seems to turn a blind eye to it.

No one is sure how many children are killed in mine collapses, or crippled by the primitive working conditions at these mines. Too many Tanzanian children are willing to work in these appalling conditions simply because of the extreme poverty they live in and it may be their one chance to make money to have a better life. But it can also lead to a greater life time of misery, injury, or quite simply death. That this practice is allowed to go on, and that gemstone companies turn a blind eye to what it takes to get the tanzanite is too horrible to imagine. There should be a worldwide boycott of tanzanite until the Tanzanian government and those companies that employ children no longer use children for digging out tanzanite. In my view, no precious commodity is worth the life of a single child.

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