|In Madagascar, a country in East Africa with about 25.6 million inhabitants, mica mineral is everywhere. It is a mineral used in automotive or car paint, electronics, and cosmetics as it adds sparkle to makeup / Photo by: Luis Miguel Bugallo Sánchez via Wikimedia Commons|
In Madagascar, a country in East Africa with about 25.6 million inhabitants, mica mineral is everywhere. It is a mineral used in automotive or car paint, electronics, and cosmetics as it adds sparkle to makeup. But leading child rights group Terre des Hommes Netherlands has found that more than half of the mica mining workforce in Madagascar includes children as young as 5.
Child Labor in the Mica Mines of Madagascar
Terre des Hommes Netherlands conducted a year-long investigation and it was recently revealed through The Guardian that at least 11,000 children in Madagascar ages 5 to 17 are employed in processing and extracting the heat-resistant, shimmery mineral. The researchers said that children comprise about 62% of the overall mica mining workforce and these miners even have to descend deep into the ground so they cut the mineral by hand. This kind of work, however, is dangerous, particularly to children.
The Terre des Hommes Netherlands report details that children have complained about aching muscles, respiratory problems, and open sores because of the nature of their work. “We are exposed to the sun that hits hard while we work. The soil we need to dig into to extract mica is very hard and we have a lot of sores on our hands because of it,” 15-year-old March from Ambatoabo said in an interview with the researchers.
Jos de Voogd of Terre des Hommes said that the fact that more than 50% of the miners are underage is “shocking” and something that should be viewed as a call to action globally. The researchers added that about 90% of all mica mined from Madagascar is directly exported to China and none of the firms involved in the export and buying have observed “due diligence” to determine where the products they are using came from or the working conditions employed. There is a need to stop child exploitation, de Voogd added.
|But leading child rights group Terre des Hommes Netherlands has found that more than half of the mica mining workforce in Madagascar includes children as young as 5 / Photo by: Jules Bosco, Salohi and USAID via Pixnio|
Factors That Force Families to Mine in Madagascar
The researchers noted that extreme poverty, instability, and drought in the southern region of Madagascar forced families to mine together. They dig, scavenge, and process the mineral artisanally. The team also said that out of the 13 mines they visited, only two were able to obtain valid licenses.
Child and adult miners are paid only 34p per kilo. This is even less than 50% of what is paid to the miners in India, where about 20,000 children were also employed in the mica industry. Although the government of India promised in 2017 to legalize the mining of the prized mineral, there are still illegal mines that exist in Jharkhand. There, children died while they were scavenging for mica.
Madagascar has already exceeded India in exporting sheet mica, which is to be used in airplanes and cars for thermal and electrical insulation. The impoverished nation in East Africa is now the third-largest exporter of mica globally with an estimated $6.5 million earnings in 2017. The report also highlights that even if the child laborers work for a full day, their earnings are never enough to afford them more than one meal a day.
|Our World in Data, a platform that provides data and research on global problems, details the share of children ages 7-14 in employment in certain countries / Photo by: Julien Harneis via Wikimedia Commons|
Global hub Business and Human Rights Resource Centre’s Eniko Horvath commented that such a kind of abuse is “too common” in the mineral supply chains. The Business and Human Rights Resource Centre is known to work with companies, governments, and other sectors to advance human rights in business and eradicate abuse.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), an agency responsible for providing humanitarian and developmental aid to children around the world, also went to Madagascar to help break the cycle of poverty in the nation and to offer families and children alternative options. They introduced a cash transfer program to help the vulnerable families in Madagascar pay for their basic needs, such as food and clothing. They believe that their program can help families pay for their kids' school fees.
UNICEF’s strategy is to support early child development too, as featured by Forbes. They do this by providing safe spaces for toddlers and infants to play and learn while their parents work.
Meanwhile, de Voogd of the Terre des Hommes said that their organization is not calling companies to boycott the mica coming to Madagascar as people in the region also depend on mica for their income. What they focus on instead is to stop the exploitation of kids; firms have to take action to pay higher prices to adult miners as a proper living wage.
Children in employment
Our World in Data, a platform that provides data and research on global problems, details the share of children ages 7-14 in employment in certain countries. Some of these countries include Ethiopia with 26.1% of children in employment, Nigeria 35.06%, Rwanda 5.9%, Algeria 7.5%, Malawi 48.9%, and Gabon 24%.
Children should be removed from hazardous work. The Terre des Hommes report only shows that the government remains the principal duty bearer to ensure safe labor practices and that the firms sourcing mica from Madagascar also have a responsibility to address the problem.