According to the International Labour Organization, around one million children aged five to seventeen work in mines throughout the world and the number is still increasing. The mining industry, which is one of the most hazardous industries, is infamous for employing a high number of children. The Minimum Age (Underground Work) Convention, 1965, defined mine as “any undertaking whether private or public, for the extraction of any substance from under the surface of the earth by means involving the employment of person underground”. Children are exploited for mining of gold, diamond, coal etc and are considered to be most suitable for mining and quarrying due to their small size. Work for children includes digging a shaft, crushing rocks, carrying ore in gold mines and digging, scraping and lifting in salt mines and carrying and crushing large stones in quarries. As children can easily go deep underground in tunnels and also works on minimal wages, they are preferred by employers.
As children can easily go deep underground in tunnels and also work on minimal wages, they are preferred by employers. Child labour in mining industry is highly prevalent in Africa and Asia. Both the continents heavily relied upon children who extract gold, diamond, and different stones. Children from age group 5 to 18 are employed to work for 12-15 hour for less than $2 per day. There are different industries in which child labour prevails but mining is the most dangerous among them. Children working in the mining industry get exposed to various chemicals which are extremely detrimental to their health. There are potential health consequences due to the nature of the work required in mines, causing over-exertion, respiratory ailments, headaches, joint problems, hearing and vision loss. Children working in mines toil under dangerous conditions without any access to school, health and other basic amenities. At such a young age children are exposed to working in fatal conditions, thereby, wagering their lives.
Health hazards and risks involved
According to estimation by International Labour Organization, there are 215 million children who work in exploitative conditions out of which 115 million children works in hazardous conditions. Mining is a work which is hazardous for children in every way. In mines, children descend to crawl through narrow, cramped and poorly made tunnels risking the children to fatal accidents and injuries. There is a constant risk of fatal accidents due to collapsing of mining walls, falling rock, explosions and using of equipment which is designed for adults. According to an interview conducted by the International Labour Organization with 220 boys and girls working in mines in Nepal, 60% of the children said that they were injured while working. Also, children are required to do the same work as adults like carrying heavy loads in their heads and backward.
Also, during mining children are exposed to toxic chemicals which cause life-threatening diseases. For instance- children who work in gold mines get exposed to mercury which is used to extract gold and is highly toxic. Mercury affects a person’s brain, heart, kidney, and lungs and mercury poisoning leads to long-term developmental disabilities also. Therefore, working for 10-14 hours in dark mines which are filled with poisonous chemicals has a constant risk of fatal accidents and injuries.
Causes Of Child Labour In Mining
POVERTY-: Child forced labour usually happens in developing countries where people lack the basic necessities of life. One of the most prominent reasons for children working in the mining industry is poverty and lack of basic necessity. Child labour in the mining industry is rampant in countries with weak laws to prevent child labour and weak labour laws, which is why African and Asian countries account for the highest number of child labour. Children, who belong to families which are so poor that it requires every member of the family to work, are often forced to work to support their family for sustenance. Therefore, millions of children who are deprived of the basic necessity of food, clothing and shelter find no way but to work in this menace.
WARS AND CONFLICT-: Children, who are orphaned or migrate due to various wars and conflicts, often end up working in mines for their survival. Children who flee from countries undergoing civil war and conflicts gets exploited working in mines. Also, countries like Angola, Sierra Leone and Zimbabwe who have barely recovered from the violent civil war and where military group still controls the diamond mines, exploits children to mine diamond, which is commonly known as ‘blood diamonds’.
Also, trafficking of children is rampant in the mining. Children who are destitute and abandoned are usually trafficked to work in mines due to which many children are forced to work in mines.
LACK OF OPPORTUNITIES-: Most of the mining takes place in remote areas where other forms of employment are difficult to find. Mining activities also take place in the informal industry, i.e. mining activities which are done by family members or close relatives without any license or formal permission. According to ILO mining industry expert, “the more remote and informal a small-scale mining activity, the more likely children are to be involved as the large-scale mining operation doesn’t employ children in its operation”.
SOCIAL ASPECTS –There are also social string attached to heavy employment of children in mining. In some parts of the world, child work is considered to be a part of the socialization process. For instance- in mining communities of Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru etc, it is considered that the boy aged over 14 years are fit to work with adults. And work done by children is considered as help and not proper work. Therefore, a social change among people is required to curb the child labour in mining.
Rat Hole Mining
On 13 December, when 15 workers were trapped in 320-350 feet deep coal mine in Meghalaya, it brought the attention of the whole world to the illegal rat-hole mining that takes place in Janita Hills in Meghalaya. But this is not the first instance of such a mishap, there were several other accidents where people were injured and died while working in rat hole mines. Rat-hole mining is also known for employing a large number of children. Rathole mining which is a primitive way to extract coal started during the British era. The term rat-hole is used because of the sizes of the holes which are too short like a rat hole. This type of mining is done by digging small holes (usually 3 to 4 feet in diameter) into the ground which is similar to the holes dug by rats, therefore the name rat-hole mining. This is usually done in the north-eastern part of the country. The Jaintia hills district in Meghalaya has become dotted with rat holes. There are serious concerns attached to it including incessant employment of children for rat-hole mining. Children are usually suitable for entering the rat-hole mining, as they are small and thin enough to crawl inside the rat-hole dig. Apart from this, it is easier to hire children who work on nominal wages. According to Mines Act 195, coal companies are prohibited from hiring anyone below 18 years. According to Impulse NGO Network (an organization based in Shillong that is addressing the issue of human trafficking and child labour in rat-hole mining in Jaintia hills for the past nine years) around 70,000 children are currently employed in Meghalaya’s mines. After a PIL filed by Impulse NGO in NGT, rat hole mining was banned in Meghalaya. Despite the ban, rat-hole mining takes place where children are also employed through trafficking from Bangladesh, Nepal and other neighbouring countries.
Eliminating child labour in mining
Forcing children to work under hazardous and fatal conditions is a gross violation of their human rights. The plight of children exploited in the mining industry is depressing. Therefore, there is an urgent need to eliminate child labour from mining and quarrying. Stringent laws are required to be legislated to prohibit child labour with maximum imprisonment for offenders and existing laws must be implemented properly. According to The Minimum Age (Underground Work) Convention, 1965(No. 123), the minimum age, in any case, shall not, in any case, be less than 16 years( article 2). The Minimum age Convention which is one the important pillars in fighting child labour needs to be ratified by member states to combat child labour. According to ILO child labour issue can be solved if an integrated approach is adopted. Various stakeholders including government and international organization must come together to address the issue.
Also Read: Meghalaya Mining: Two Weeks On, 15 Workers Still Trapped; IAF & Odisha Fire Services Extend Help