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.”
Photo Credit: Sukanto Debnath via Creative Commons