The dark side of shinning glittering industries: Rampant child labour in Mica mines of India

By Sarika Maurya, Kshitij Gautam*

Colonial History is witness that these Adivasis people of Jharkhand’s mica rich areas are being exploited by the other people for their benefit. And even now no changes could have been made, exploitation of the people in these areas are very rampant since colonial times.

Theft and illicit mining of Mica has been in existence even before independence, the export quantity always exceeded import one. Various report from the media forced the Jharkhand government to announce the legalization of illegal mica mining of this region in 2017, but it is 2021, we are still waiting for the move to be implemented on the paper than on ground zero

The dream of the worlds richest is often laid down on the graveyard of the world poorest section of our society. As pandemic has hit the entire world its ramification can be seen in areas of Jharkhand’s mica rich district. In this region, the only source of livelihood for its people is mica mining. While the report from western media has highlighted the fact that the number of children employed in these areas is 22 thousand, NCPCR says it five thousand and in 2018 has said to produce the report of an exact number of children. Even authorities do commit the fact that child labour is flourishing in the region under the nose of those who are in power and authority in that regions.

Although China is the globally largest producer of Mica, if we add the most of mica produce from India which is exported illegally India, India will become the world’s largest producer of Mica, In 2016 India, officially produced 14, 000 tones of Mica, while it exported to China 1,40,000 tones of Mica. This figure suggests that how well illegal mica mining is flourishing in India. While the government of Jharkhand website says that all mines have been closed. This is because most of the Mica mining is in the hands of private sector or independent contractor, who employees group of people there to collect mica illegally and sell them to the companies who export them illegally out of India.

To get exact figures of Mica mining workers in India is quite tough because more than 60% of Mica produced in India are exported across the globe illegally, some report says it to be higher than 60%. The labourers who are involved in such mining do not get any protection of labour laws and other laws which seek to protect their rights, accountability would have been easier if laws are implemented properly, and if the legalization of mica mines has happened.

It is demand from cosmetic companies, electrical companies that forced these people to collect the mica from scrap, and put their life at risk. The reason why these brands chose India over any other country is that they provide them mica with the lowest incidental cost.

Why Child labour is so rampant?

India is a signatory to the key international convention which seeks to end child labour and provide a better future for children, and nationally itself have over dozens of legislation. India was among the first countries to sign the International Programme on Elimination of Child Labour.

Various studies have shown that poverty is the utmost reason which forces children to engage themselves in child labour. It is also quite impossible to attain the exact figures of how many children are being employed in these mines, because of the illegality of work, or even whenever mining is permitted, children worked as forced labour. The preference for children is so high in this area because of their tender age, and small hands, due to their small size, they can go into the small deep mines, which people over a certain age can’t. Also, there are many sectors in which children are being employed in India since they have small hands which will make their work easy. As of 2017, it has ratified 47 major conventions of ILO. But none of it seems to be working for these children.

Apart from poverty, there are various reason that force these children to work in these mines, one is a vicious circle of poverty under which their families are trapped, also the patriarchal society doesn’t allow women to be paid as much as men, even if they work at par with men. Children make so much money in a day that they can have their next meal, so in such a situation they can’t even think of going to school, because if they will go to school, there will be no next meal for them. Education has become a luxury for them. Illicit poverty of the region can be understood by the fact that hardly there is any family in these regions whose member does not work in Mica mining there’re,

Obstacles in curbing of Child Labour from the region

The biggest obstacles of removing Child labour from the mica mining area and sending them to school is the non-availability of school in the nearby area, and they are in the tussle between choosing the food of one time, or education, in such circumstances, ultimately these children abandon their studies for mining. Neither of the families who are employed here works under any industry or company; hence people working in these mines don’t get any legal protection. The reason being that these people are working in these areas are, one is that the Mica Mafia or independent contractor get cheap labour, Not being employed by any industries or legally makes them ineligible for the protection of labour laws. Nor we can term the children working here as child labour as per the provision of Child Prevention (Prevention and Regulation) Act 1988 because they work as a helper for their parents.

Since the Forest Conservation Act 1980 has come, these people were stopped from going and using those forest, as these people are Adivasis and their lives depend upon forest only and coupled in poverty, so in absence of forest, they only had one job left that was mica mining so they opted for this.

The death of children goes unaccounted in this region. There are instances when children say that friend them have died, but they are being forced by the families to shut their mouth. After all, on the death of any worker, they are paid a pretty handsome amount of money, which will take a year or two for them to earn, sometimes the independent contractor who employed them, run away in fear of getting caught, on the death of any work because they have to provide money to them. Another reason for the silence among the death of children is that what if authorities shut the mines; stop them from working there because they also know that they are working illegally. And in absence of mining, they don’t have any other source of income.

Before this pandemic situation was getting better, with mid-day meal provided in the school, the children of the area got reason to go to school, which has been shut due to pandemic, and these children and their whole family are again forced to work in the mines. Unreported death and child labour not being termed as child labour are two crucial factors that make the situation even worse for these children,

Conclusion

The reason why India is not legalizing these mica mining from these is, that they have to provide legislative protection to these Adivasi people of these areas, and with that other safety equipment. Legalizing mining in this area would not just provide better employment opportunity for the people of the region, but also help in removing child labour from the mines. While laws define that working outside school hours to support family doesn’t come under child labour, what about the children who are forced by poverty (or sometimes their parents) to work outside school hours or even skip school to work.

*Students at the Indore Institute of Law

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