In a hotly contested 100-kilometer stretch of forested mountains in southern Africa, the nominal land border between Mozambique and Zimbabwe, several hundred desperate people have converged to dig for riches. But this newly discovered vein of some of the region’s richest gold and emerald deposits has become a notoriously violent no-man’s land.
Among the subsistence, or “artisanal,” miners in the “gold forest” are hundreds of young women from Zimbabwe, driven here by hunger and a dying economy. When they arrive, they often fall prey to Mozambique’s border police, who impose order; extort sex, mineral ore, and cash bribes; and work with cartels selling mining pits.
Many of the women become pregnant, and many of the babies that result – those that are not miscarried – suffer from stunted growth, pneumonia, or disease. Their mothers tend not to breastfeed and many children receive no vaccinations.
But one overriding problem complicates all the others: these infants are stateless.
Mozambique, to the east, refuses to issue birth certificates to gold-forest babies, saying the border wilderness is not its legal territory. In Zimbabwe, it’s the same story.
Without the proper papers, these women cannot register their children for school, receive welfare payments, or get access to affordable medications for their children.
Global media and multinational corporations have taken notice of these countries’ gold, diamond, and emerald deposits, but the plight of a few hundred illegal female diggers exchanging sex for mining rights and their resulting stateless babies has been overlooked.
I have written on this topic previously, and I have cultivated sources among the women who have given birth in the mining region. I also plan to talk to members of gangs that work with rogue border police to control the most lucrative pits and exploit the women, ministers in charge of citizenship in both countries, union activists campaigning for artisanal women miners to receive full training and ownership rights to lucrative sites, anti-corruption activists who say these women must pay huge bribes to buy citizenship for their children, and international experts trying to determine the effects on children of being trapped in this geographical and legal limbo.
I hope you’ll help me shed light on the tragic situation of these women and their children by donating to my Press Start campaign.
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