Former child miner wins Diana award for setting up school in India

MUMBAI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A former child miner who set up a school in his village in eastern India to save other children from that fate has been named among the winners of an award set up in Princess Diana’s memory.

Neeraj Murmu, 21, started the school four years ago in Jharkhand, one of India’s poorest states, after he was rescued from a life mining mica, the mineral that puts the sparkle in cosmetics and car paint.

He was among 23 young Indians recognised in this week’s Diana Awards, set up to honour young people who have demonstrated their ability to inspire and mobilise new generations to serve their communities.

“I used to feel scared working in the mica mine, but there was no option. We had to do work to earn money ... but I tell parents now that children need to study,” said Murmu by phone.

“Convincing parents to send their children to study is challenging, but I give them my example,” said Murmu, now a student of political science, who watched the virtual awards ceremony from his village in India.

Indian law forbids children below the age of 18 working in mines and other hazardous industries, but many families living in extreme poverty rely on children to boost household income.

Children as young as five are put to work in India’s mica mines, and a 2016 investigation by the Thomson Reuters Foundation found a series of child deaths had been covered up.

Murmu was rescued when he was 11 and enrolled in school. Years later, he rented a room for 500 rupees and started holding classes himself.

His school has since grown and offers classes up to age nine or 10, with about 100 children enrolled currently. He named it after the founder of the charity that rescued him - Nobel laureate Kailash Satyarthi.

“I owed my learning to him,” he said.

The award has already created a buzz in Murmu’s village and he said he hoped it would help.

“Many officials ignore our requests for repairs or other works. But now I think that will change. My village might develop,” said Murmu.

India is one of the world’s largest producers of mica, which has gained prominence in recent years as an environmentally-friendly material, used by major global brands in the car and building sectors, electronics and make-up.

While the spotlight on the sector has raised awareness of the dangers and led to more children going to school, poverty means many villagers have no choice but to send their children out to work.

Murmu understands his dream of more pupils in school is linked to mica in a region where even the mud sparkles with the mineral - without the money it brings, parents are more likely to send their children to work.

“It is a livelihood for this region. If there is no mica, parents won’t be able to send their child to study,” he said.

($1 = 74.8420 Indian rupees)

Reporting by Roli Srivastava @Rolionaroll; Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit