Text written by Georgina from the article published in BBC Focus on Africa Magazine October - December 2007. (Additional images shown here to those in the article)

Poverty and war have forced hundreds of women in the DR Congo's gold-rich town of Mongbwalu in the east of the country to risk their lives working as 'human mules' deep inside disused mines. Women - some as young as 16 and others older than 50 - enter the mines to collect sacks of rocks weighing up to 60 kgs.

Carrying such weights on their backs, at times up to seven kilometres to the surface, has had a devastating effect on the health of these women. Some, working when they are pregnant, have miscarried.

The women, earning on average $5 a day, have to crawl through tiny passages, torch in mouth, pushing or pulling their sacks, and are at risk of getting stuck deep underground. At times they find themselves in pitch blackness walking waist deep in water.

These women are working in mines where the gold is particularly hard to find. As a result, both men - who break rocks - and women - who transport them - are forced deep into old shafts where there is a high safety risk including weak walls and limited oxygen.

Once outside the mine, the nightmare continues as the women are expected to carry the rocks for up to three hours through hilly terrain to workshops.

Many are widows, having lost their husbands to war or disease, and know no other work to earn money for their families. Carrying rocks may be killing them, but the income is immediate and more reliable than farming. "Living on gold should be a blessing, instead it is a curse," says Elisabeth Buve Love, a representative of these women in the town.

The Catholic aid agency Cafod wants jewellery retailers and mining companies to sign up to a set of "responsible mining" rules, and for governments and businesses to give affected communities much greater say in whether gold is mined, how it is done so, and who benefits. www.cafod.org.uk/unearthjustice

Finalist in Diageo Africa Business Reporting awards 2008 - Best Published Photograph

Radio Interview - BBC World Service, OUTLOOK, Friday October, 26, 2007: Young women working underground in north-eastern Congo's gold mines

Georgina Cranston - Photographer

Women: Human mules of Congo's gold mines
A young girl carries around 40kgs of rocks out of Adidi gold mine.