The civil society working on land rights and mining issues seldom highlight their plight

MAY 31, 2014

childAshok Shrimali*

India currently produces 89 minerals out of which four are fuel minerals, 11 metallic, 52 non- metallic and 22 minor minerals. Mining for fuel, metallic and non-metallic industrial minerals is currently undertaken in almost half of India’s districts. Post-Independence, mining has been considered as one of the main industries that generate high revenues considering that India is significantly endowed with mineral resources. Development through the means mining in our country is also considered to be directly proportional to economic prosperity at all levels — be it national or local.

Unfortunately, mining has always been a symbol of struggle between human need and human greed. The greed has always undermined the need. We have seen many such struggles by tribal people in India such as the one in Niyamgiri hills against Vedanta in Odisha, against POSCO in Odisha, against SAIL in Salem, Tamil Nadu, and many more. Through these struggles one can see that economic prosperity has never percolated to the Local level. It is in and around these mining areas that we find many children growing up. These children are affected by mining both- indirectly and directly. It is these children who one should be concerned about and refer to as the mining children.

A fact finding visit to the mines of Hospet and Bellary in 2005 and the country-wide study on children and mining, “India’s Childhood in the Pits”, a report on the impacts of mining on children in India  undertaken jointly by HAQ Centre for Child Rights, Samata, Mines, Minerals and People (MM&P) and Dhaatri Resource Centre for Womenhighlighted the impact of mining on children. The report highlighted that mining children suffer from malnourishment, respiratory diseases, absence of safe drinking water, of safe and healthy environment.

These areas are prone to high dropout rates from school, vulnerability to sexual exploitation,  and trafficking.  Since areas inhabited by adivasis are the ones that are also mineral resource rich, it is the adivasi children who are the worst affected by mining. They are hit the hardest by landlessness, displacement and depletion of forest resources, which also seriously affects their nutrition.

However, the tragedy is that “mining children” are nobody’s children. The ministry or department that mines does not look after children and those ministries or departments that look after children, such as Departments or Ministries of Social Welfare, Labour, Women and Child Development, Education, Tribal Welfare do not have mining areas on their radar.  So invariably, children in these areas fall between the cracks.

Following the release of the report “India’s Childhood in the Pits”, an inter-ministerial committee was set up by the secretary of mines to address the issues of women and children in the mining areas. This Committee was constituted keeping in mind the need to interact and coordinate with different concerned ministries to address the emerging concerns. But unfortunately, as soon as the Secretary changed, this initiative seems to have  put into cold storage.

What is more, the same kind of gap exists between human rights activists and civil society groups as well. Those who work on land rights and mining issues seldom see and therefore highlight the issues concerning children. Similarly, those working on child rights seldom see the impact mining is having on children.  Media too has never made this connect. Therefore it is not surprising that they are partnering with mining companies  such as the partnership between NDTV and the controversial Vedanta, who have caught on to the importance of the issue and the need to focus on children, and are already acting on it to boost their image.

For the past three years, HAQ and Samata, with support from Tdh-Germany have been trying to bring in this connect through public hearings, trainings and workshops. But clearly that has not been enough. It is important to bring many more stake holders into this discussion and debate. It is in this context that Samata and HAQ: Centre for Child Rights, organised a roundtable conference in Vishakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh. Broadly, the objective of holding a roundtable conference was to draw attention to and emphasise the need to focus on children living in mining areas among civil society organisations, academicians, lawyers, individuals, media, chairpersons of statutory bodies such as members of commissions for the protection of child rights as well as human rights commissions.
Ashok Shrimali

Children are affected directly and indirectly by mining. Among, the direct impacts are: The loss of lands leading to displacement and dislocation, increased morbidity due to pollution and environmental damage,  consistent degeneration of quality of life after mining starts, increase in school dropouts and children entering the workforce.  The indirect impacts of mining are often visible only after a period of time. They are: Fall in nutrition levels leading to malnutrition, increase in diseases due to contamination of water, soil and air, and Increase in migration due to unstable work opportunities for their parents.

India has a lot of laws, policies and programmes for children. But studies have shown that mining children are unable to benefit from them. Very few laws provide any protection or relief to mining children in particular or address their specific situation created as a result of living and even working in mining.  The paradox of mining lies in the fact that, although they live in the mining areas, neither the mining industry nor the mining administration is legally responsible for ensuring the rights and development needs of children. This is because the principal job of the ministry of mines is to mine and not look into the requirements of children.

The mess that is created in the lives of children as a result of mining is addressed by other departments like child welfare, education, tribal welfare, labour and others, which makes for an inter-departmental conflict of interest and leaves ample room for ambiguities in state accountability. In this process, the child is being forgotten. Thus, impacts of mining on children have technically few legal redressal mechanisms to bring the multiple players to account.

Child labour in mining and quarrying is in virtually the worst form of child labour because of the extent and severity of the hazards and the risks of death, injury and disease. There is no justification – poverty included – for children to work in this sector. It is literally a back breaking work. It is relatively straightforward, therefore, for governments to legislate to include mining and quarrying activities on their legally-binding, national hazardous child labour lists; thereby making them prohibited activities for children.

Mining children have the same rights as any other child in the country and it is important for all those who work on mining or child rights issues in the area, to be familiar with these so that they can advocate for their realisation.  The Indian Constitution, various national policies, assorted laws concerning children, and international legal instruments ratified by India, particularly the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989, which India ratified in 1992, provide a legal framework for ensuring children their rights to survival, development, protection and participation.

Article 45 of the Indian Constitution promises that the state shall endeavour to provide early childhood care and education for all children until they complete the age of six years.  The largest programme to guarantee this is the Integrated Child Protection Scheme.  Although this has not yet been recognised as a fundamental right by the Constitution, for the complete growth of a child NGOs must try to ensure that there is fully functional anganwadi centre for children in our area.

The Mines Crèche Rules, 1966 mentions the crèches facilities should be provided for the children below age of 6, of women employed in the mines. There are clear guidelines given in this rule about provision such a as structure, hygiene, facilities like bathroom, medical officer to be provided by the mine owner in crèches. Education for children is the first casualty for seasonal migrants or those displaced by mining. This goes simultaneously with their entry into labour.  Most parents now want to send their children to school. Now that the Government of India has guaranteed education as fundamental right, there is a need to ensure that all the mining children can access this right.

*Gujarat-based senior rights activist, who attended round table conferences on Children and Mining – Protecting Child Rights in Mining Affected Areas, held at Vishakhapatnam, Bhubaneshwar, Ranchi and Delhi between May  21 and 26, 2014

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