Children in India working in Mica “Ghost” mines

Child Labor and unreported deaths in mica mines

A 3 month investigation by Thomson Reuters Foundation uncovers the mica mining industry in Indian states of states of Bihar, Jharkhand, Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh. Children as young as the age of 5 were found working alongside adults in these underground, illegal mica mines with small hands ideal to pick and sort the valued mineral that puts the sparkle in cosmetics and car paint.

Mica is used in a lot of makeup products to add shine and lustre.

Mica is used in a lot of makeup products to add shine and lustre.

Interviews led by Nita Bhalla, Rina Chandran, Anuradha Nagaraj with the mine workers and local communities reveal that children were not only risking their health by working in abandoned “ghost” mines off official radars, but they were dying in the unregulated, crumbling mines, with seven killed since June.

India's illegal mica mines have where young children work alongside adults

India’s illegal mica mines have where young children work alongside adults

The Thomson Reuters Foundation findings were backed up by Nobel laureate Kailash Satyarthi’s child protection group Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA) – or Save the Childhood Movement – which documented over 20 mica-related deaths in June – including that of Madan and two other children – double the monthly average.

With few employment opportunities but an abundance of mica, illegal mining has become a family business here with children working alongside their parents to put food on the table. The mica is first sold to small-time traders, changing hands multiple times before reaching Giridih — Jharkhand’s mica processing and export hub. Industry insiders value the export trade — both legal and illegal — at about Rs 125 crore.

Children working in mica mines

Indian law forbids children below the age of 18 working in mines and other hazardous industries but many families living in extreme poverty rely on children to boost household income.

The BBA Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA) – or Save the Childhood Movement  has reported that these recent deaths are just the tip of the iceberg.

“Although there are no official figures on child deaths in the mines as it is all illegal, we hear about them through our networks in the villages where we work,” said Raj Bhushan, BBA’s Jharkhand Project Coordinator. “Normally, we hear about 10 fatalities on average in a month. But in June, we documented over 20 deaths, including two of boys aged around 15 years old.”

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