In a survey conducted by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, it is estimated that about 5000 kids between ages 6-14 have quit school and are working in mines for the extraction of mica, an extremely popular component of the beauty industry.
Mica is used to provide shimmer to our makeup, giving us the desired glow, in electronics, paints and toothpastes. There are 22,000 child laborers involved in this profession in Bihar and Jharkhand alone. In the nexus of brokers, local officials, police and hungry-deprived families, real numbers are tough to obtain, and the problem tougher to resolve.
Children as young as five are sent to mica mines to excavate the mineral, they are not provided with enough safety measures and risk their limbs and life to mine collapse. They are unable to go to school, get an education and keep on working in the mines throughout their lives, just like their parents.
According to a report by Refinery29, the workers are paid around ₹3-10 per kg, which is a bare minimum amount. Several other negative consequences branch out like – preference for the male child, malnutrition, health issues (asthma, blindness among others), absence of women and child safety.
In a recent video, Refinery29 also connects the dots between the ever-expanding beauty industry and the atrocities of mica extraction. However, several beauty brands like Lush, Chanel, Estee Lauder and Body Shop have made attempts to support the cause by jointing the Responsible Mica Initiative. They attempt to trace their mica sources back to the ground level to check any presence of child-labour and cut-off from the supplier if the presence is found.
There are also Indian companies like Sudarshan, which is a sustainable colour provider who take social investment measures in their fight against child labor. Sudarshan follows a three-step approach to deal with child-labour in its mica mines; traceability and transparency, community empowerment and governance. To ensure traceability, Sudarshan makes sure their vendors do not partake in child labour by third party verification – Bureau Veritas Quality International (BVQI), an international agency specialised in Testing, Inspection and Certification (TIC).
As soon as organisations are not able to verify their sources at the ground level, they should shift to more reliable alternatives like synthetic mica. Though cutting off from the suppliers steals has its own perils of snatching away the primary source of income for these workers.
There are also organisations like Kailash Satyarthi’s Bachpan Bachao Andolan which is trying to place these young mica workers into schools and creating ‘child-friendly villages.’ But is it sustainable? Is it enough? We can’t simply pull out the bread from their mouth in exchange for education and hopes for a better future. Rather, the family would choose feeding itself before educating its children.
So what possible solutions do we have? The primary solution can be to either legalise the mining and create strict implementation of laws surrounding it or keeping the mining illegal and providing other work alternatives. Doing so makes the adults capable of earning an income sufficient to feed their families and encourages them to send their children to school.