Without convergence between various government departments and agencies, the Mining Child falls through the gaps

miningFollowing a report published in 2010, “India’s Childhood in the ‘Pits’- A Report on the Impacts of Mining on Children in India”, an Inter-Ministerial Committee was set up by the secretary of mines to address the issues of women and children in the mining areas. Among the direct impacts of mining on children it identified included the loss of land leading to displacement and dislocation; increased morbidity due to pollution and environmental damage, consistent degeneration of quality of life after mining starts, increase in school dropouts, and children entering the work force. The indirect impacts of mining included fall in nutrition levels leading to malnutrition, increase in diseases due to contamination of water, soil and air; increased migration due to unstable work opportunities for their parents etc.

Despite identification of the problem, apparently, no progress has been made since then. One of the main reasons for this is, the mining children are nobody’s baby in the government. A new report, “Children and their Rights in Mining Areas: A Community Resource Guide”, published by the HAQ: Centre for Child Rights, New Delhi, and Samata, Visakhapatnam, and supported by Terre des Hommes, Germany, has highlighted the problem. Excerpts:

The Ministry of Mines’ fundamental job is to mine. Many of the violations and human rights abuses that result from mining, especially with respect to children, are not the mandate of the ministry to address. The responsibility lies elsewhere, due to which seeking justice for the child poses several obstacles. In adivasi regions, mining has caused landlessness and depletion of forest resources. Children’s nutrition has been seriously affected by this displacement and depletion.

The Revenue Department task is to acquire lands because mining is a ‘public interest’ activity and hence, the health and nutrition of children does not seem to fit into their domain. The Women and Child Welfare Department is responsible for providing supplementary child nutrition and to address issues of child mortality. But it is not consulted at the time of granting mining leases to protect the food security of adivasi children from being affected by mining. Their supplementary nutrition programmes, even if they are implemented (which most times are not, as seen in many of the case studies) are far from adequate to deal with the malnutrition and threat to child mortality in mining areas. Many children were found not to be attending school due to poverty created by mining.

mining1The Education Department is responsible for ensuring retention of children in school and to ensure enrolment and attendance. However, the responsibility is shifted on to the parents who are treated as the main culprits for the children being out of school. But the mining activity or mining company is never held responsible for the school dropout rates or for the situation of child labour in spite of the fact that in every mine site visited, children reported poverty and indebtedness in the family caused by mining as the main reason for leaving school. The reason for children not attending school is because they are forced to work in the mines as their parents are either dead or too ill to work.

It is the responsibility of the Labour Department to address child labour issues. The Labour Department has been simply denying that there is child labour as was evident from the responses we received to the Right to Information (RTI) applications regarding child labour. The Education Department has either been claiming that majority of children are enrolled or are being taken care of by National Child Labour Project (NCLP) schools. But the Census data, District Information System for Education (DISE) cards of the Education Department itself and our studies in the field reveal that many children are out of school or working in different informal activities.

Migrant labour is not directly the responsibility of any specific department in terms of providing basic development facilities. Therefore, they do not have rights for housing or land. Children of migrant workers are malnourished as their families do not have ration cards and do not have the purchasing capacity to buy sufficient food from the market. These families find it extremely difficult to get ration cards issued to them by the Revenue Department as they do not have a proof of residence or a stable identity.

Water is a very serious problem expressed by the women as mining activities everywhere have depleted water resources and reduced the existing water bodies to highly contaminated cesspools unfit for human or animal consumption. Case studies found that water bodies were dried up, courses of streams and rivers have been changed, groundwater levels have fallen and in many places, the only water bodies left are the cess-pools of water from mine pits.

mining2Children in mining areas visited were found to be vulnerable to water and air borne diseases as pollution from mining activities forces them to either consume contaminated water or live without access to water. In many places women showed their pots of dark and dirty drinking water, which ought not to be consumed. No authority is directly responsible for providing these basic amenities to migrant workers’ settlements. The local panchayat/municipality is not responsible for supplying drinking water, as the migrant colonies are not within their jurisdiction of governance.

The Ministry for Water Resources is never consulted as a stakeholder when mining projects are sanctioned, so their role in regulation and protection of water bodies with regard to mining affected areas is almost negligent. Crisis over water not only has impacts on children’s health and hygiene in the immediate surroundings but has implications downstream to a larger region, whether with respect to reduced food security due to lack of irrigation for farmers or health hazards due to toxic waste in the waters. There are many children across India growing up in and around the mining areas.

Mining affects their lives directly or indirectly. It is these children who we refer to as the mining children. Somehow, while working on mining issues, concerns relating to children tend to get overlooked. On the other hand, groups working on children have very little understanding on mining and its impact on children. Somehow, while working on mining issues, concerns relating to children tend to get overlooked. On the other hand, groups working on children have very little understanding on mining and its impact on children. Over the last few years, a need has been felt to bring these issues and groups together.

Displacement causes a significant disruption to education and healthcare for children. Families may be forced to relocate to areas where infrastructure is poor or there is a lack of basic services. Many displaced children rarely have the opportunity to return to school after moving locations. Because their parents lose their livelihoods and end up as migrant daily wage labour, children of displaced families are often forced to work in order to contribute financially to their family’s survival.

Impacts of Mining on Children

  1. Increased morbidity and illnesses: Mining children are faced with increased morbidity. Children are prone to illness because they live in mining areas and work in mines.
  2. Increased food insecurity and malnutrition: While almost 50 per cent of children in many states across the country are malnourished, mining areas are even more vulnerable to child malnutrition, hunger and food insecurity.
  3. Increased vulnerability to exploitation and abuse: Displaced, homeless or living in inadequate housing conditions, forced to drop out of schools, children become vulnerable to abuse, exploitation and being recruited for illegal activities by mafia and even trafficking.
  4. Violation of right to education: India is walking backwards in the mining affected areas with respect to its goal of education for all. Mining children are unable to access schools or are forced to drop out of schools because of circumstances arising from mining.
  5. Increase in child labour: Mining regions have large numbers of children working in the most hazardous activities.
  6. Further marginalisation of adivasi and dalit children: Large-scale mining projects are mainly in adivasi areas and the adivasi child is fast losing his/her Constitutional rights under the Fifth Schedule, due to displacement, land alienation and migration by mining projects. As with adivasi children, it is the mining dalit children who are displaced, forced out-of-school and employed in the mines.
  7. Migrant children are the nowhere children: The mining sector is largely dependent on migrant populations where children have no security of life and where children are also found to be working in the mines or other labour as a result of mining.
  8. Mining children fall through the gaps: Children are not the responsibility of the Ministry of Mines that is responsible for their situation and the violation of their rights. The mess that is created in the lives of children as a result of mining has to be addressed by other departments like child welfare, education, tribal welfare, labour, environment and others.

Without convergence between various departments and agencies, the mining child falls through the gaps. All laws and policies related to mining and related processes do not address specific rights and entitlements of mining children.

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