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National Commission for Protection of Child Rights declares Child Labour Free Mica Mines

20 Years from Mines to Schools: Mica Mines are ‘Child Labour Free’ finally

20 years later, ALL children in Mica regions of Jharkhand head to school, not mines

•National Commission for Protection of Child Rights declares Mica mines in Jharkhand ‘Child labour Free’
•‘Child Labour Free Mica’ program began in 2004 and has been working with local, district and state government authorities to achieve this milestone
•In 2019, more than 20,000 children were child labourers in these mines but now ALL children are enrolled in schools

At a grand celebration in Koderma today, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) declared that the Mica mines in Jharkhand are now ‘Child Labour Free’. With this monumental feat, the 20-year long journey to end child labour from Mica mining in the state has finally entered its last leg as the NCPCR declared that not only all the child labourers from mica mines have been withdrawn, they are also enrolled in schools now. NCPCR chairperson Priyank Kanoongo announced this first ever such successful endeavour to cleanse a supply chain of child labour in mica mining with the collaboration between state, district, and local governing bodies, ‘Child Labour Free Mica’ program, children and communities.

Besides NCPCR chairperson, Bhuwan Ribhu, noted child rights activist who has worked on the issue for 20 years, former child labourers, Bal Panchayat (Children’s Council) Child leaders and members, Community members, Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRI) members, MLAs, representatives from Education, Women and Child Development, and Labour departments also attended the event.

The occasion was an emotionally charged one reflecting the celebration of a generational change highlighting the parents, who were once toiling in these mines as children, coming together to promise to never allow their children to ever work in mica mines (or elsewhere) and instead go to school.

Announcing ‘Child Labour Free Mica’, NCPCR chairman Priyank Kanoongo said, “Today as I declare that all children are free from exploitation in mica mines and are headed to schools, and not mines, I feel both overwhelmed and proud. What the joint efforts and will of Child Labour Free Mica program, village panchayats, state government and district administration has achieved in these villages is a testament of how consistent efforts and single-minded aim can ensure safety and justice for children. This is the beginning of the end of child labour in mica mines and that has to be maintained now.”

In 2004, a research done by Bachpan Bachao Andolan had found that over 5000 children were involved in mica mining and collection. By 2019, this number had increased to more than 20,000. It was the collaborative effort between children, communities, civil society organizations and government that led to the creation of ‘Child Labour Free Mica.’ Every single child who was out of school was identified, withdrawn from labour, enrolled and retained in schools.

Reflecting on the long, arduous journey towards making mica mines child labour free, Bhuwan Ribhu, who started the research, identifying the child labourers in 2004, said, “The identification of 22,000 children in mica mining and collection and their subsequent withdrawal from work and enrolment in schools is a landmark achievement of the government and the civil society organisations involved in the work of child labour free mica. This is an example to be replicated across the world in the unorganised sector for the complete elimination of child labour in global supply chains.” He further added that this was a landmark achievement in the constituency of Women and Child Development Minister Annpurna Devi who has proactively been part of this cause for the last many years.

When it all began in 2004, these regions were infested with Naxalite violence which made it daunting for even government agencies to make inroads. With the strategic, collaborative and consistent work by the ‘Child Labour Free Mica’ program, all the 684 mica-dependent villages are now free from child labour, while 20,584 children have been withdrawn from mica mining and 30,364 children have enrolled in schools so far. Through constant vigilance and monitoring, the program protects 137,997 children daily and has enrolled 30,364 children in schools. Besides, 275,516 people benefitted from welfare programs through the collaborative approach in the region.

What makes the program even more unique is the fact that while it is for the children, it has also ensured that the children are at the forefront steering and bringing in the changes.

Emphasizing on how this solution-oriented, children-centric approach led to such success, David Hircock, Executive Director, Este´ Lauder Companies, who was also present on the occasion, said, “To eliminate child labour worldwide, the voices of the children their experiences and their freely being part of solution-finding must be sought and acted on! Child labour free mica programme over 20 years has guided the children and communities on their inherent rights, and opportunities available. Leading to powerful decision-making, and partnership with children, community, government officials all working with respect for each other, to end child labour and build safer communities.” Este´ Lauder has been a huge supporter of the ‘Child Labour Free Mica’ program right from its inception.

Reminiscing her life’s own triumphs and tribulations, Bindiya Kumari from Nauwadih village in Jharkhand shared her journey from being a child labourer in mica mines to becoming the secretary of her village Bal Panchayat. She said, “While working in the mica mines, our fingers often bled and we were in constant pain. But when Bal Mitra Gram program was initiated in our village, I along with my friends could once again go to school. I am in Class 10 now and once I grow up, I aspire to be a government officer who can stop such child exploitation.” As the secretary of the Bal Panchayat, Bindiya along with others have so far been able to enrol 45 children from her village in schools.

While all children are enrolled in schools now, the ‘Child Labour Free Mica’ program will continue to keep a close eye on these villages till 2025 to ensure that no child, under any circumstances, is roped in labour in the supply chain of mica mining in the region.

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