Eight-Year-Old Boys Working In India’s Coal Mines

Thousands of underage workers, some as young as 8, leave school to work in coal mines in north-east India under perilous conditions.

The Guardian
reports that child labor is forbidden in India. The federal parliament passed a law recently decreeing compulsory schooling for children aged six. Yet according to Impulse Network, a child-rights group based in Shillong, the state capital of Meghalaya, there are more than 70,000 underage labourers in the pits. Adolescents aged 14 or 15 come to Soo-Kilo from neighbouring states, and also from Nepal and Bangladesh.

Young Boys Scrambling Sideways Into Rat Hole Shafts

Here’s how The Los Angeles Times describes the mining conditions:

The young miners descend on rickety ladders made of branches into the makeshift coal mines dotting the Jaintia Hills in northeast India, scrambling sideways into “rat hole” shafts so small that even kneeling becomes impossible. Lying horizontally, they hack away with picks and their bare hands: Human labor here is far cheaper than machines.

Thousands of children, some as young as 8, are believed to toil alongside adults in the northeast mines; their small bodies are well suited to the narrow coal seams. Many migrated legally from from Nepal or illegally from neighboring Bangladesh, lured by the wages.

Deaths are undocumented but far from rare; medical care is almost nonexistent. Many of the older children spend their pay on alcohol, gambling and prostitutes. Some drift away; others keep working for decades.

India Has Child Labor Laws

India has a national mining law, plus a right-to-education bill, and it has ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, minus a few key clauses on the speed of implementation. So why are these mines not closed down for using illegal child labor?

It seems that tribal land rights in Meghalaya state trump some national laws, and other laws are largely ignored, creating loopholes big enough to drive a coal truck through, activists say. The rules are meant to protect cottage industries, but many mines are owned by state and national lawmakers or their relatives.

From The Los Angeles Times:

“We know a few owners control everything,” said Hasina Kharbhih, founder of Impulse Network. “They get away scot-free.”

Take Action

Please take action now by clicking here to demand that the President of India, Smt. Pratibha Devisingh Patil, enforces India’s child labour laws and puts an end to these shameful conditions.

Photo Credit: Sukanto Debnath via Creative Commons

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Carole R.
Carole R.3 years ago

How awful.

jessica w.
jessica w.4 years ago

sad. :(

Sarah M.
Sarah M.4 years ago

This is beyond words...

Ruth R.
Ruth R.4 years ago

Signed and emailed the petition above -- under Take Action.

Shelly Peterson
Shelly Peterson4 years ago

signed the 8th of June, just had to make sure!

dve d.
wiz w.4 years ago

dangerous and dirty work .and it not a place for a child to be working in

Maarja L.
Maarja L.4 years ago

It's awful but if they have to work like that to help their family survive it becomes even more awful.

Eternal Gardener
Eternal Gardener4 years ago

Signed petition!

Jj S.
Janice S.4 years ago

Thank you.

Valerie A.
Valerie A.4 years ago