Her face caked in dirt and hair matted with sweat, this 8 year old, hacks away at pieces of rock containing an elusive mineral that adds a dash of sparkle to lipstick and nail polish. She has not known any other way of life after toiling in the mines of India’s eastern Jharkhand since she was four.
She is among hundreds of children who help their families make ends meet by spending their day collecting mica, often enduring hunger pangs while the sun beats down on their heads. Mica adds glitter to powders, mascara and lipsticks of top global brands. Although child labour below 18 is illegal with fines and jail terms for employers, there is poor enforcement and the laws are often broken. Children often injure themselves with the pickaxes, while fine mica dust enter their eyes and chest, causing chronic health problems. Officially, India has about 12 million workers under 14, more than any other nation. Voluntary groups put the number at a whopping 60 million. The law does little to address the reasons that compel the family to put children to work: poverty, debt and marginalisation. Kids have no option but to work, parents have no option but to put them to work.