Caught in the quagmire

Children have always been at the receiving end of many of our flawed policies. There has always been a wide gap between what should be and what it is the reality. Here, one is talking about our mining and quarrying industry where this gap is way wide. According to the 2001 Census, 45,135 children between the age group of five and 14 years, and 206,720 between five and 19 years, are employed in the industry. “The number is much more than what the Census quotes,” points out Enakshi Ganguly Thukral, co-director of the Delhi-based NGO Haq.

Enakshi is part of a comprehensive study recently conducted by Haq: Centre for Child Rights in partnership with Dhaatri Resource Centre for Women – Samata and Mines, Minerals and People Alliance. Supported by Terre Des Hommes, Germany, AEI and ASTM Luxembourg, the study called India's Childhood in the Pits – a Report on Impacts of Mining on Children in India was carried out in eight states and took the organisations about a year to complete it.

Enakshi says the results are startling but adds that the Ministry of Mines is not the only department which is responsible for their situation. “It needs to be addressed by other departments like child welfare, education, tribal welfare, labour and environment. Without such a convergence, the mining child falls through the gap.” Here, Enakshi takes a few questions on the report.

What triggered the study?

In April 2005, HAQ, Samata, M.V. Foundation, Campaign Against Child Labour (Karnataka) and along with several other organisations carried out a fact-finding mission in the iron ore mines of Bellary where they found huge number of children living and working in hazardous conditions. When the report was put out, and particularly after National Human Rights Commission took suo moto cognisance of it, it was dismissed as emotive, non-factual, exaggerated, etc.

This latest study was conceived in follow up to that, and is the first study of its kind in India, looking not only at child labour in the mines, but the multitude of other ways in which children are impacted by mining such as on their health, education, living conditions, etc.

Which States has it covered?

The study covered numerous mining sites in 18 districts across Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan, Orissa, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. In Orissa, we undertook case studies in a number of different sites as it is a State most impacted by mining and has been the focus of further mineral expansion.

What are the findings?

One important finding of the report is that the Government's policies related to mining and related processes do not address the specific rights and entitlements of the mining children. Also, that the mining areas are more vulnerable to child malnutrition, hunger and food insecurity. By being displaced, homeless or living in inadequate housing conditions, they are forced to drop out of schools and become vulnerable to abuse and trafficking and are recruited for illegal activities by local mafias.

Besides, the mining regions have a large number of children working in the most hazardous activities. Large-scale mining activities are mainly in Adivasi areas and the Adivasi childred are losing their Constitutional rights under 5th Schedule due to displacement, land alienation and migration by mining projects. The mining Dalit children are suffering too.

Are the children employed at the mines mostly from migrant families?

The children are from a mixture of local and migrant families. Migration and mining go hand-in-hand, due to the seasonal nature of the work and market fluctuations in demand for minerals. Large numbers of migrant families were found in many of the mining areas visited, e.g. in Pune district of Maharashtra. However, local children are often employed in the sector, particularly after their families have become displaced or lost agriculture land for mining, e.g. in Orissa.

Is it only poverty that is responsible for child labour in the mining industry?

A number of factors are responsible for child labour in the mining industry. Loss of land /displacement leads to children being forced out of school and into work. Low wages and indebtedness of their parents (often also engaged in mining work) means that children are forced into work in order to help their families survive. In the majority of areas visited, illness of parents also paid a key role in child labour. After a number of years of working in mines, their parents were falling sick with TB and silicosis, which meant that their children had to drop out of school and become ‘breadwinners'.

Approximately how many children are employed in the mining industry?

This was not a Census survey…only a proper census on each and every mining site or quarry across the country will give us an exact figure. Given that the existence of child labour in mining is often even denied (as we can see from answers raised on this issue in Parliament, wherein the concerned Minister has replied saying that there were no children in mining as it is banned by law.), it is clearly impossible to estimate how many children are working in mining and quarrying sector and its allied activities.

How will the report be used in the advocacy of the issue?

The report has already been shared with the Ministry of Mines and some ther Government departments. The Secretary for Mines was a panellist at the report's launch on March 22 in New Delhi. She has promised to take some of the suggestions. She has also invited the research team and others to feed into the process that the Mines Ministry has initiated for amending the Mines Act as well as the development of a sustainable development framework.

A National Consultation on Children and Mining took place in Delhi on March 22 and 23, which brought together organisations working on mining and groups working on child rights. It is hoped that these groups will continue to work together to ensure that mining children no longer continue to be neglected.

The article was written in THE HINDU by Sangeeta Barooah Pisharoty. You can also read it here