Concern over child labour in mines

Divya Ramamurthi

A survey found two lakh children working in the Hospet-Bellary region last April `Two lakh children worked in the Hospet-Bellary region last April'

Only a small percentage of children get nutritious food A project to educate the children has failed

BANGALORE: Non-governmental organisations are worried that more children will be employed in mines this summer.

"Every year, when school closes, the number of children working in mines goes up by at least 10 per cent. Five per cent of families, including children, remain to work in mines instead of going back to their villages," Vijayalakshmi, a social worker, said.

A survey conducted by Campaign against Child Labour, Karnataka, and Mines, Minerals and People, last April, showed that over two lakh children are employed in iron ores and granite mines in the Hospet-Bellary region. "Although the local authorities were informed and the matter was taken to the National Human Rights Commission, the numbers have not gone down," Ms. Vijayalakshmi said.

However, labour officials in the region disagree on the number of children working in mines. An official said that according to a survey done by the department last March, the number of children working in the area is only about 500.

Jose Pazheparambil, Executive Director of Don Bosco, an organisation that runs schools for child labourers, said a survey conducted by the organisation last December showed that 1,445 families, including 2,555 children, were living in an area of six sq.km in the region. "Only the needs of 500 of these children, in terms of schooling and proper nutrition, were being taken care of," he said.

To tackle the issue of child labour, the Labour Department set up seven schools last October. Over 1,000 out-of-school children were identified. However, the project was not successful. "Parents are scared to let their children out of their sight. They feel threatened when they have to send them away to study," says Ms. Vijayalakshmi.

NGOs are holding discussions with the department to find out whether they can help mitigate the problem of employment of children in mines this summer. They will seek extension of the Sarva Sikshana Abhiyan programme to temporary schools set up at mines.

S. Balraju, Block Education Officer of Hospet, said the department is planning to open two schools in the region this summer.

However, many children go to school only for about a month as their families leave for other mines or for their villages.