Blood Mica: Key findings of investigation into child deaths in India's illegal mica mines

KODERMA/BHILWARA/SYDAPURAM, India (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - In the depths of India’s illegal mica mines, where children as young as five work alongside adults, lurks a dark, hidden secret - the cover-up of child deaths with seven killed in the past two months, a Thomson Reuters Foundation investigation revealed.

Vinita, 16, goes into a rat-hole mine to search for mica in Giridih district in the eastern state of Jharkhand, India, June 27, 2016. Picture taken June 27, 2016. REUTERS/Nita Bhalla

Here are some of the key findings of a three-month long investigation in the states of Jharkhand, Bihar, Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh into child labor involved in producing mica, the mineral that puts the sparkle into make-up and car paint:

* Investigations by the Thomson Reuters Foundation found children working in and around mica mines in northern Jharkhand, southern Bihar in eastern India and in Rajasthan in northwest

* At least seven children reported killed in the past two months alone in mines

* Mine operators and victims’ families are covering up these deaths, not reporting them but accepting payments for fear of ending the illegal mining that brings much needed income to poor areas, according to campaigners and victims’ families

* Farmer Vasdev Rai Pratap’s teenage Madan was killed in a mica mine in June but he has not reported his son’s death and is awaiting a promised a $1,500 payment from the mine operator

* Workers at Nobel laureate Kailash Satyarthi’s child protection group Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA) say the teenager’s death is the tip of the iceberg, estimating less than 10 percent of mica mine deaths are reported to the police

* BBA documented over 20 mica-related deaths in June, including Madan and two other teenagers - double the monthly average

* BBA uncovered four deaths in July

* Government officials admit child labor is a problem in some mines but have no reports of children dying in mica mines

* Indian government officials say mica mining is a matter for state governments and out of their hands

* Leading Indian color and effect pigment maker Sudarshan said experts estimate about 70 percent of mica production in India is from illegal mining in forests and abandoned mines

* Figures from India’s Bureau of Mines show the country produced 19,000 tonnes of mica in 2013/14 but the same data shows exports were 128,000 tonnes with the biggest buyers China, Japan and the United States

* Dutch campaign group SOMO says up to 20,000 children are involved in mica mining in Jharkhand and Bihar

* By Indian law children aged under 18 cannot work in mines

* “I know it’s dangerous but that’s the only work there is,” says Basanti, collecting mica in Jharkhand’s Giridih area as her 10-year-old son Sandeep descends 3 meters (10 ft) down a make-shift shaft to pound on the wall with a pick-axe.

* Dhanraj Sharma, a commissioner in Rajasthan’s Labour Ministry, said he was not aware of child workers in the mines: “They may be playing there, they may be doing some small things for the parents. That doesn’t mean they are working.”