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

“The impacts must be considered and addressed at all stages of mining cycles and this concern must find reflection in the present governance structure,” said non-governmental organisations HAQ, Samata, and Mines, Minerals and People in their latest ‘Report on the impacts of mining on children' titled “India's Childhood in Pits.”

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 policy-makers or activists, it says.

It is not possible to give an accurate figure of the number of children working in mining and quarrying in India, it says.

Census 2001 reported there were 45,135 children between 5-14 years working in the mining sector, accounting for nearly 7 per cent of working children in India. Child labour figures are only disaggregated in the census up to 14 years. However, figures reveal that many in the 15-19-year group work in this sector — 161,585 according to the Census.

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

Further the report says that while poverty is often presented as the only factor that explains child labour in the mining sector, the actual picture is far more complex. Several socio-economic factors have led to a situation where large numbers of children can still be seen toiling in mines and quarries. The systemic and deliberate reason is that child labour is cheap, and this cheap labour is welcomed by contractors in the mining and quarrying sector. 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 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. It also suggested developing guidelines for migrant labour and the un-organised sector and the pre-conditions that need to be fixed before mining leases are granted.

The foremost need is for strengthening protection mechanisms for children and campaigns against child labour in these regions, the report adds.

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