Network plea to save child miners - 20% kids from Nepal

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  • Published 26.03.11

Guwahati, March 25: A study on children engaged in rat-hole mining in coal mines of Jaintia Hills district has recommended establishing a network of cross-border partners in Nepal and Bangladesh so that child workers, who are trafficked to work in these mines, could safely be repatriated to their families.

The study, which has been done by Impulse, an NGO from Meghalaya that is working on child trafficking issues and HIV/AIDS, was investigating into the trafficking of children to work in the coal mines of Jaintia Hills.

Around 200 child labourers working in the coal mines of Jaintia Hills were interviewed by a team of field researchers, of whom 20 per cent described themselves as migrants from Nepal.

The study gives accounts of children from Nepal and other places who speak of the problems of working in the mines. The estimated coal reserves in Jaintia Hills are 40 million tonnes and coal extraction is done by primitive surface mining method, commonly known as “rat-hole” mining. In this method, the land is first cleared by cutting and removing the ground vegetation and then pits, ranging from 5 to 100 square metres, are dug into the ground to reach the coal seam.

The study includes the accounts of a 16-year-old boy, Kumarbhai, who has come from Kotang, Nepal, with his maternal uncle and has been working in the mines, where he pulls coal trolleys, for seven months.

“He has not gone home in a year but will visit this year. He says there is a danger of the roof of the mines collapsing. He even knows of four people who have died inside the mines, three inside the pits and one who fell from the bamboo scaffolding. No safety equipment is provided to them in the mines,” the study quotes Kumarbhai.

“From the interviews of mine managers, owners and children, it was found that owners of the mines maintain a strong network with middlemen in Nepal. During peak mining season from October to May, mine owners or managers send information to these middlemen on their requirement of child labourers in the mines. These middlemen go into villages and convince poor families to send their children to work in the coal mines,” the study says.

It says poverty is the primary reason that drives families in Nepal to send their children to work in the mines since they are convinced by the middlemen that there is substantial money to be made by working in the coal mines of Meghalaya.

“The fact that both the families and the children were unaware of the kind of work they would be involved in, indicates that there was deception at play in luring them to work in the mines. However, details of the spread of the network of middlemen or the amount of commission earned by them are outside the scope of this study. A more extensive cross-border analysis is required to unearth the detailed process of recruitment of children,” it says.