INGON’s Campaign Against Child Labour in Rat-Hole Mining of Meghalaya.
The state of Meghalaya is a land of rustic beauty, but the district of Jaintia Hills has become dotted with rat-holes – a primitive mining method where pits ranging from 5-100 square meters are dug into the ground to reach a coal seam. This mining technique resembles the scurrying of rats through narrow passages, and thus the name ‘rat-hole mining’.
Hundreds of children, some as young as six or seven years of age, descend into these deep pits and crawl through a labyrinth of horizontal tunnels with rudimentary pick-axes and torches to chip away at the black rock.
The tunnels are about one meter high and are carved into the side of the seam to extract coal. In other words, these tunnels are so small and narrow that only the size of a child can squeeze through.
These child miners spend hours crouched inside the dark damp pits, struggling to breathe in the sulphur-rich air while collecting coal. This type of labour poses a serious threat to human life and to the local environment.
Impulse NGO Network has been addressing the issue of human trafficking and child labour in the rat hole coal mines of the district of Jaintia Hills for the past nine years. We have conducted several studies to investigate and report on the engagement of children and forced labour in the mines of Meghalaya.
Based on these research studies, it has been estimated that approximately 70,000 children were employed in the rat-hole mines. Most of these children hail from the neighbouring countries of Bangladesh and Nepal.
- An Exploratory Study of Children Engaged in Rat Hole Mining in the Coal Mines of Jaintia Hills District, Meghalaya. Impulse NGO Network with the Support of Aide et Action, December 2010.
- Investigation of Child Trafficking in the Coal Mines of Jaintia Hills District, Meghalaya, India. Impulse NGO Network with the support of Esther Benjamins Trust (EBT) Nepal, May 2010
- Report on Child Labour in the Mines of Meghalaya, Fact Finding Mission of Human Rights Now to India. Human Rights Now, July 2011.
INGON established a media partner’s network across India and globally, and strategised media content to report human interest stories systematically.
A Press Release was sent to the Asian Human Rights Commission’s (AHRC) for global advocacy on children trafficked to the coal mines. Our Global Development Network (GDN) partnership provides support in transforming the research generated and media advocacy into good practices and media friendly memos. The team used this platform to advocate for these mine labourers. We started a strong media campaign, to create mass awareness on the issue.
Numerous national and international media outlets viz. (New York Times, Los Angeles Times, France 24, France 2, France 5, SBS One, ABC, CNN-IBN, Hindustan Times, Tehelka, Al-Jazeera etc.) visited Jaintia Hills, to gather evidence for stories featuring violation of child rights in the region. The sustained media campaign created strong demands to address the issue of child labour in the coal mines, which eventually led to acknowledgement and change in attitudes.
Impulse NGO Network has helped rescue about 1,200 children from these mines.
However, in due course it that was observed that the rescued children were soon replaced with new recruits. Due to government apathy and protracted reluctance to address the issue, INGON was compelled to file a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the National Green Tribunal. Subsequently, the National Green Tribunal passed a directive on April 17, 2014, banning rat-hole-mining in the state of Meghalaya.