Painting a frightening picture of the extent of the violation of children's rights in the mining areas across the country, a child rights organisation has said the government must recognise that children are impacted by mining.

These impacts must be considered and addressed at all stages of mining cycles and this concern must find reflection in the present governance structure, HAQ — a child rights group, Samata and Mines, Minerals and People — another non-governmental organisation — have said in “India's Childhood in Pits,” a ‘Report on the impacts of mining on children.'

Malnourished, denied access to education, and living and working in dangerous conditions, India's “mining children” are leading horrendous lives. Previously unexplored, and therefore inevitably neglected, the links between children and mining have not yet been taken seriously by either policy-makers or activists, it says.

According to the report, it is not possible to give an accurate figure of children working in mining and quarrying. According to the 2001 census, 45,135 children between the ages of 5 and 14 years were working in the mining sector, amounting to nearly 7 per cent of the working children in India. Child labour figures are only disaggregated in the census up to 14 years. However, figures reveal that huge numbers of children aged 15 to 19 years work in this sector — 1,61,585 according to the census.

Disputing the figure, the report points out that figures provided by the census grossly underestimate the scale of the problem. Organisations working for miners in Rajasthan estimate around 3,75,000 children work in the mines and quarries across the State alone. In Karnataka, estimates suggest there are at least a few lakh children engaged in mining. The blurring of children and women's labour has been cited as an impediment to accurate data on children working in mining, as women and children are often lumped together in reports and statistics.

Further it says that while poverty is often presented as the only factor explaining child labour in the mining sector, the actual picture is far more complex. A multitude of socio-economic factors have led to a situation where a large number of children can still be seen toiling in our mines and quarries. The systemic and deliberate reason is that child labour is cheap, and this is welcomed by contractors. Children are also compliant, easier to control and have no bargaining power. They are often forced into mining because of the low wages received by their parents.

The findings from this study provide a strong reason for an urgent and comprehensive assessment of the status of children in mining areas, children of mine workers, as well as of local communities, child labour engaged in mining and the status of the institutional structures for them, the report suggests.

It also calls for addressing the glaring loopholes in the law, policy and implementation related to mining in general, and private and small scale mining in particular that are related to children, and to develop guidelines for migrant labour and the un-organised sector and pre-conditions that need to be fixed before mining leases are granted. Foremost is the need for strengthening protection mechanisms for children and campaigns against child labour in these regions, the report adds.

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