In the depths of India’s illegal mica mines, where children as young as five work alongside adults, lurks a dark, hidden secret – the cover-up of child deaths with seven killed in the past two months, a Thomson Reuters Foundation investigation revealed.
Here are some of the key findings of a three-month long investigation in the states of Jharkhand, Bihar, Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh into child labor involved in producing mica, the mineral that puts the sparkle into make-up and car paint:
- Investigations found children working in and around mica mines in northern Jharkhand, southern Bihar and in Rajasthan. At least seven children have been reported killed in the past two months alone in the mines.
- The mine operators and victims’ families are covering up these deaths, not reporting them but accepting payments for fear of ending the illegal mining that brings much needed income to poor areas, according to campaigners and victims’ families.
Farmer Vasdev Rai Pratap’s teenage son Madan was killed in a mica mine in June but he has not reported his son’s death and is awaiting a payment to the tune of one lakh from the mine operator.
Workers at Nobel laureate Kailash Satyarthi’s child protection group Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA) say the teenager’s death is the tip of the iceberg, estimating less than 10 percent of mica mine deaths are reported to the police.
The BBA documented over 20 mica-related deaths in June, including Madan and two other teenagers – double the monthly average. BBA has uncovered four deaths in July.
Government officials admit child labor is a problem in some mines but have no reports of children dying in mica mines. They said mica mining is a matter for state governments and out of their hands.
Leading color and effect pigment maker Sudarshan said experts estimate about 70 percent of mica production in India is from illegal mining in forests and abandoned mines.
Figures from India’s Bureau of Mines show the country produced 19,000 tonnes of mica in 2013-14 but the same data shows exports were 128,000 tonnes with the biggest buyers being China, Japan and the United States.
Dutch campaign group SOMO says up to 20,000 children are involved in mica mining in Jharkhand and Bihar. According to law, children aged under 18 cannot work in mines.
“I know it’s dangerous but that’s the only work there is,” says Basanti, collecting mica in Jharkhand’s Giridih area as her 10-year-old son Sandeep descends 3 meters (10 ft) down a make-shift shaft to pound on the wall with a pick-axe. Dhanraj Sharma, a commissioner in Rajasthan’s Labour Ministry, said he was not aware of child workers in the mines: “They may be playing there, they may be doing some small things for the parents. That doesn’t mean they are working.”
(This story was published in an arrangement Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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