MAC: Mines and Communities

Breaking the backs of India's children

Published by MAC on 2005-05-16

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Breaking the backs of India's children

May 16 2005

By Shantha Sinha - The Asian Age India

Child in India's labour minesOn April 14 and 15 this year I represented the M.V. Foundation on a visit to Hospet, Sandur and Illakal talukas in Karnataka. I was in the company of a fact finding team comprising representatives of HAQ Centre for Child Rights, New Delhi, Campaign against Child Trafficking, Samata, mines, minerals & People, India, Campaign Against Child Labour, Karnataka and Oxfam Swaraj, Karnataka. After just one day in the area in the blazing hot sun, our skin was covered with the red dust of iron filings which emanates from the iron ore mines.

It is estimated that there are at least 200,000 boys and girls working relentlessly from morning to night in these iron ore quarries which cover an expanse of 180 kilometres of denuded land. What we witnessed in this sordid tragedy of child labour - a horrendous site of large scale violence and oppression - is simply unpardonable. Let us look at one village in this area. On a half-acre plot of land taken on lease by a contractor, there are eight households with 15 adults and 25 children. Five- to six-year old Gangamma, Ishwaramma and Shekamma spend between six to eight hours a day hammering away through a pile of iron stock so that they can build up their pile of iron ore "lumps." The pile at the end of the day and the number of iron basins they fill will determine how much their families will earn. They are not the only ones.

Little three-year-old Ramesh carries an iron basin filled with iron ore lumps on his head, this early induction into the world of mining and exploitation being part of his childhood. His load is not as heavy as the 15 kg that all the other children carry up and down while their backs and heads hurt, but as they tell themselves, "How can we complain?"

These are not ordinary jobs that these children do. Sitting hunched over hot ferrous ore, chipping away steadily at heavy metal with a hammer is not "child's play." At its safest, it is painful for the shoulders and the back, the wrist joints and the arms while the little hands are covered in bruises and blisters. At its most hazardous, this "occupation" causes severe injuries and even results in maiming and death when heavy stones fall or the hammer in weary hands sometimes misses its aim. These children know no rest, no play, no learning, nothing but the grim grind of a joyless existence.

Most of the children belong to families of migrant labourers and the fate of these young boys and girls of our country is aptly described in the following extract from the report of the fact finding team:

"Each stomach unto itself and each puttu (puttu is an iron basin used to carry material) tells a tale. Only puttus cannot speak and so breathes easy the labour officer, the contractor, the mine owner, the trader, the money-lender, the exporter, the minister, the bureaucrat, the consumer and the rest of the world. It is only our mother who cannot rest even while she falls at the feet of the contractors and begs that we be sent to the gallows of the mines."

The product of the work of these children necessitates a hectic movement of people, vehicles of all sorts and sizes: trucks, bulldozers, crushers, jeeps and wagons on rail tracks, ships and so on. All these vehicles and indeed the livelihoods of all those who operate or drive them are dependent on the lives of the little children who are at the bottom of the mining pile.

The list of working mines as of 2004 shows that there are three major mines in Bellary range extending over an area of 81.30 hectares, six big mines in Hospet range with 725.52 hectares and a total of 37 mines spread over 2671.37 hectares in Sandur range with an average lease period of 10 years. It is difficult to obtain accurate data and information on the number of mines, the extent of mining activities, the labour force involved and the trade routes of each of these minerals.

There is a lot of illegal mining with a strong nexus between layers of politicians, mine owners, traders, contractors, exporters, transporters and owners of processing units. As per the list of leases for the year 2004, most of the mining is being done by small mining companies while there are a few large public sector companies like NMDC (National Mineral Development Corporation), Mysore Minerals Ltd and some private ones like Vijayanagara Steels. Furthermore, much of the work is sub-contracted to private miners and contractors. We were told that mineral exports to China, Korea and other countries started after 1995 and have now grown into a major export industry.

According to the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act 1986, children are prohibited from working in quarrying and mining as these fall under "hazardous industries." The employment of children in mining activities is illegal under the mining law. In spite of this, children continue to be engaged in mining work from dawn to dusk in our country today. The National Child Labour Programme is designed precisely to release and rehabilitate children who are under the purview of the Act. Nothing has been done so far on this score.

Child in India's labour minesThe state of Karnataka is not the only mining region to engage child labour in India. Large numbers of children are engaged in work in the mines of Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Orissa, Jharkhand, to name just a few states in gross violation of human rights. The children are sacrificed so that crores of rupees of profits may be heaped up. Is it not shameful that India continues to produce its wealth based on the exploitation of a vast army of abused and unprotected children? Must we continue to be insensitive to the exploitation of children?

Of what use are the values enshrined in the Constitution of India pledging to uphold justice, equity and the dignity of one and all? Of what value is our globalised market economy if it gives rise to such a brutalised society? It is a reflection on the moral turpitude of an Indian society lacking in conscience which permits such a fierce form of injury to our little children.

We are proudly part of a wise old country that boasts of civilisational culture, fine human sentiments and dharma. However, the involvement of child labour in the mining industry is a stain on the fabric of our modern society. India must rid herself of these practices and restore the principles of fair treatment for all. Pressure must be exerted on the government to act immediately and impose the law on unscrupulous employers. A price must be paid for breaking the backs of India's children.

Lakhs of children employed in State mines, says report

Aarti Dhar, National Newspaper

16 May 2005

Centre urged to conduct probe and come up with report on child labour

Child in India's Labout minesNEW DELHI: Several lakh children are working in the mines at Hospet, Sandur and Ilkal belt of Karnataka in violation of child and labour laws. A large number of children, starting from the age of five, working in the most hazardous conditions are leading a horrible existence, HAQ - Centre for Child Rights - has said in its report, "Our Mining Children."

It has demanded that the Centre should immediately conduct an enquiry in all mining areas and come up with a country report on child labour. Though it is difficult to accurately estimate the number of children working, it can be said that at least a few lakh children are illegally forced into mining activities. Children are used for digging, breaking stones, loading, dumping, transporting and processing of iron ore with no safety equipment, wages or working hours, the report points out.

Prepared by the Mines, Minerals and People, Campaign Against Child Trafficking and M.V. Foundation along with several other organisations, the report has demanded that the Centre and the Karnataka Government accept the prevalence of child labour and enquire into the magnitude of exploitation of children. Legal action should be taken against miners and their mining leases cancelled for employing child workers. The organisations have suggested that local bodies such as gram panchayats or gram sabhas must be given the power and mandate for monitoring the child labour situations in their jurisdiction. The report blames the shift to privatisation and open market economy after the new economic policies that led to pushing women and children into informal labour, as the foremost reason for child labour. In the mining sector, deregulation of laws for attracting foreign direct investment and private investment have led to mechanisation and retrenchment of workers and have diluted legal protection towards labourers and the marginalised section.

Quebrado las espaldas de los niños en India

Por Shantha Sinha , The Asian Age, India

16 de Mayo de 2005

El 14 y 15 de abril de este año, representé a la Fundación M.V. en una visita a Hospet, Sandur y Illakal Talukas en Karnataka, India.

Me acompañaba un equipo de investigación integrado por representantes del Centro por los Derechos de los Niños HAQ de Nueva Delhi, la Campaña contra el Tráfico de Niños de Samata, la organización minas, Minerales & PERSONAS, la Campaña contra el Trabajo Infantil de Karnataka, y Oxfam Swaraj, también de Karnataka. Luego de un día de trabajo en el área, bajo un sol ardiente, nuestra piel se cubrió con el polvo rojo de limaduras de hierro que emanan las minas de la región.

Se estima que al menos 200,000 niños y niñas trabajan inexorablemente de la mañana a la noche en las canteras de hierro que ocupan unos 180 kilómetros de tierra desnuda. Lo que presenciamos es la tragedia sórdida del trabajo infantil - un lugar horrendo de violencia y opreción a gran escala - que es simplemente imperdonable.

Veamos una de las villas de la región. En una parcela de medio acre de terreno tomado en alquiler por un contratista, hay ocho casas de familia con 15 adultos y 25 niños. Gangamma, Ishwaramma y Shekamma, niños de 5 a 6 años, pasan de seis a ocho horas martillando una pila, para lograr su "chichón" de hierro. La pila que quede al final del día, y la cantidad de basijas que logren completar, determinará cuánto obtendrán sus respectivas familias. Pero no son los únicos.

El pequeño de 3 años Ramesh carga una basija llena de mineral de hierro en su cabeza. Esta inducción temprana al mundo de la minería y la explotación es parte de su infancia. Su carga no es tan pesada como los 15 kilos que llevan otros niños mayores que él, lo que hace doler sus espaldas y cabeza, pero como ellos mismos dicen: "¿qué podemos hacer?"

Estos niños no conocen el descanso, el juego, el estudio. No conocen nada más que la sucia opresión de una vida sin goce.

El producto del trabajo de estos niños demanda un febril movimiento de personas, vehículos y camiones, bulldozers, jeeps y vagones de todo tamaño. Toda esta maquinaria, y el modo de vida de aquellos que la manipulan, dependen de las vidas de estos niños: el último segmento de la pirámide minera.

La lista de minas en operación durante el 2004 muestra que hay tres grandes minas activas en la Sierra de Bellary, extendiéndose en un área de 81,3 hectáreas. Seis grandes minas en la Sierra de Hospet, con 725,5 hectáreas. Y un total de 37 minas desplegadas en 2671.3 hectáreas en la Sierra de Sandur, todas ellas con un promedio de concesión para explotación de 10 años. Es difícil conseguir información adecuada sobre el número de minas, el tipo de actividades que allí se realizan, la fuerza de trabajo involucrada y las rutas de comercialización de los minerales que allí se extraen.

Hay mucha actividad minera ilegal, con fuertes nexos entre funcionarios políticos, propietarios de minas, negociantes, contratistas, exportadores y transportistas, y los propietarios de las unidades de explotación. De acuerdo a la lista de concesiones de 2004, la mayoría de los trabajos mineros son realizados por pequeñas compañías, mientras que hay unas pocas empresas grandes del sector público como la NMDC (National Mineral Development Corporation), Mysore Minerals Ltd, y hay también algunas privadas como Vijayanagara Steels.

Pero mucho del trabajo es sub contratado a mineros privados y contratistas. Se nos informó que las exportaciones de minerales a China, Corea y otros países comenzaron en 1995, llegado a ser esta minería, en la actualidad, una industria mayormente exportadora.

De acuerdo a Ley de Trabajo Infantil (Prohibición y Regulación) de 1986, está prohibido que los niños trabajen en minas y canteras ya que se las considera "industrias peligrosas". El empleo de niños en actividades mineras está prohibido también bajo las leyes específicas del sector.

A pesar de esto, hoy en día los menores siguen involucrados en trabajos mineros en nuestro país. El Programa Nacional de Trabajo Infantil fue diseñado precisamente para liberar y rehabilitar niños que se encuentran bajo los alcances de la mencionada Ley. Pero nada se ha hecho hasta ahora para darle cumplimiento.

El Estado de Karnataka no es la única región de la India donde existe el trabajo infantil en minería. Muchos niños trabajan en minería en Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Orissa o Jharkhand, para mencionar sólo algunos Estados donde se violan groseramente los derechos humanos.

Somos parte orgullosa se un país sabio y antiguo, impulsor de la cultura civilatoria y los mejores sentimientos humanos. Sin embargo, el trabajo de menores en la industria minera es una mancha en la construcción de nuestra sociedad moderna. La India debe liberarse a sí misma de estas prácticas y restaurar los principios de justicia para todos. Debe ejercerse presión sobre el gobierno para que actúe inmediatamente e imponga la ley a los empleadores inescrupulosos. Debe pagarse el precio de quebrar las espaldas de los niños de India.

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