All posts by Rachel Szekely

Mining for rights: child labour in India

“We are the child labourers of the iron ore mines with red iron in our lungs and intestines and our eyes and our bodies. We are fourteen, we are eight, we are also five and four, and our metallurgical skills start from the time we crawl… Most of all, we can be made invisible. If you do not look at us, you cannot see us, for; THERE ARE NOT CHILD LABOURERS IN THE MINES.” (HAQCRC, 2005:2)

The Issue

India is home to more child labourers under the age of 14 than any other country in the world (Khanna, 1997) and a 2001 census revealed that over 12 million of these children are child labourers. Given that the informal sector is rife with invisible child labourers, this figure is believed to be closer to 44 million and possibly as high as 80-100 million (Rabe, 2006:21).

India is one of the largest natural stone producers accounting for 27% of the world’s production (Rabe, 2006:7). Mining in India was first used long ago by local kingdoms for weaponry and domestic products, then, from the 1800’s by the British Government. It wasn’t until the 1990’s, however, when large public sector companies began exploring India for natural stone resources, that the mining industry became significant and small scale exporting to countries including China and Korea began. Apart from this boom in the mining industry, India’s “economy is growing at one of the fastest rates in the world” (Rabe, 2006:11).

UNICEF estimates that approximately 20% of mine workers are children (Marshalls). Young girls earn less than any other group of employees in the industry (Lahiri-Dutt, 2006:32), making them particularly attractive to businesses driven by profit. Overall women make up 10-50% of quarry workers (Lahiri-Dutt, 2006:4), and 40% of these women are 5-14 years old (Nayak et el, 6).

All children in the mining industry “are undergoing serious physical, social, sexual, psychological and environmental exploitation and trauma” (HAQCRC, 2005:4). They work long hours in extremely dangerous environments often with no safety equipment, clean water, amenities or prescribed pay, while the toxic materials and hazardous environments render them susceptible to a range of serious health problems and injuries (HAQCRC, 2005:4). Girls, however, suffer the additional torment of “gender-specific forms of abuse from their employers, including rape” (Lahiri-Dutt, 2006:32).


Field work has shown that one of the most common causes of child labour is a lack of education (Rabe, 2006:15). Traditional Indian society supports the subordination of women to men. (Handy et el, 2003:149). “Child labour affects boys and girls differently… Some argue that child labour is becoming increasingly ‘feminised’” due partially to the fact that if an opportunity arises for a family to send a child to school, male children are prioritised above female children (Rabe, 2006:17). This, together with the fact that girls are paid less than boys may help explain the disproportionate number of young girls working in the quarry industry.

Another significant factor which perpetuates society’s acceptance of the way the quarry industry operates is the caste system. “The caste system in India is an intricate hierarchical social scaffold that determines each person’s ‘role’ or function in relation to others… In such a system, society not only ‘approves’ child labour, it demands it” (Rabe, 2006:15). Little action has been taken to enforce child labour laws because it “would disrupt existing social arrangements” (Rabe, 2006:21). In essence social hierarchy lies at the root of the issue.


India’s Constitution prohibits children under 14 from working in mines (Rabe, 2006:21). In addition child labour legislation prohibits children from working in “hazardous industries” and mining legislation regulates welfare, safety and health issues (Lahiri-Dutt, 2006:19).

Despite these protections offered by India’s legal framework, children continue to be exploited by the mining industry. One of the reasons for this is that, while there are a few major public and international companies operating in India, the mining industry is dominated by small, private companies linked to a labyrinth of illegal activity and overwhelmingly operating in the “informal” sector (HAQCRC, 2005:6). Many mine labourers have no formal record or registration of their existence (Kulkarni, 2007:1).

40K Foundation Australia

Clary Castrission was a 22 year old law student when he headed to India with Karyn Avery to spend their uni break working in an orphanage in Bangalore. Here they met with the directors of the Lovedale Foundation, a small local foundation aimed at assisting underprivileged children. Severely underfunded and surrounded by a slum community of quarry workers in which child labour is rife, Clary saw an opportunity to get involved. A partnership with the Lovedale Foundation was formed and the 40K Foundation Australia ( developed. That was all back in 2005. Five years later 40K is due to complete its first project.

Approximately 400,000 workers from around Bangalore work 12 hour days, 6-7 days per week with primitive tools like chisels and dynamite in Bangalore’s quarries alone. Most of these workers live in rural slums and with an average income of around $1.80 per day cannot afford to send their children to school. Instead children are often forced to work in dangerous and exploitative conditions to supplement this meagre income.

The 40K project required Clary to travel frequently to India and try to negotiate and keep things moving in a foreign country riddled with obstacles and local politics. Slowly his relationship with the quarry community in Bangalore grew. Greatly disturbed by the work and living conditions of this community, Clary attempted to live like a local. He lived in a local’s hut, ate local food and went to work in the quarries. The idea was to document his experience. Only a few days in, local thugs started threatening community members and Clary was forced out.  Nonetheless it became clear that there was an undeniable link between the exploitative employment in the quarries, poverty and child labour.

40K decided that an orphanage or home would not in itself provide any sort of long term or permanent solution. The link between education and escaping poverty is well established and so it was decided the main focus of the project would be a school. “Education often plays as great a role as poverty in determining whether a child becomes a labourer” (Rabe, 2006:15). The aim is for this to school to operate like a bridging school, providing remedial education that will enable and prepare children to enter the mainstream national education system.

The new facility has the capacity to school 150 students and house 30 children unable to remain with their families. The school is due to open in October. 40K is headed by a young motivated team of 3 full time staff, approximately 25 part time volunteers and supported by a board of wise old men.

With the impending completion of their maiden project and 40K’s profile gaining momentum, it is currently recruiting for a variety of new volunteer positions requiring a one day per week commitment. For development studies students, there is one particular position which would be of special interest- the 40K Research Institute Director. 40K’s Research Institute, founded in February 2009 by Myles Pulsford and patroned by Professor Sam Blay of UTS, operates to research all the issues surrounding the quarries so that the work of the Foundation can be more targeted. Run exclusively by students, there are now 8 students undertaking the research of issues including the legal issues surrounding the workers, health, alcoholism, the nature of migrant workers, and the economics of the quarries. The Research Institute Director position is a fantastic opportunity for a development studies post-grad student to set the strategic direction for the institute as well as seek publicity opportunities for the reports and establish industry contacts to assist in the research process. For more information about the position contact 40k.

One thing is for sure, 40K’s work means young children living in rural slums around Bangalore will have the opportunity to escape the cycle of poverty and an alternative to a childhood working in the quarries.



HAQ Centre for Child Rights (HAQCRC) (2007) Our Mining Children: A Report of the Fact Finding Team on the Child Labourers on the Iron Ore and Granite Mines in Bellary District of Karnataka, 15-16 April 2005,

Handy, F., Kassam, M., Ranade, S. (2003) “Factors Influencing Women Entrepreneurs  of NGOs in India”, Nonforprofit Management and Leadership, Volume 13, Issue 2, July 2003, pages 139-154.

Khanna, P. (1997) “Combating Child Labour in India, UNICEF [Online] accessed 22 April 2010,

Kulkarni, M. (2007) “Stone Quarry Workers win the battle for Right to Drinking Water”, Oxfam Australia,

Lahiri-Dutt, K. (2006) Gendered Livelihoods in Small Mines and Quarries in India: Living on the Edge, July 2006,

Nayak, P. & Mishra, S. Gender And Sustainable Development In Mining Sector In India,

Rabe, N. (2006) Letting the future in: World Vision & Child Labour in India, World Vision,

What is development?

As is a space for discussion on topics within international development, it is constructive to communicate our perspective of the notion of international development. We hope this will create discussion around development as a concept and encourage others to contribute to the site.

If you’re anything like any of us then at some point you’ve probably tried to describe international development, only to realise the concept cannot be compartmentalised into a neat, concise definition. Indeed, the very nature of international development has no boundaries. It can mean and include as much or as little as one desires. Despite this, we have attempted to articulate what we consider to be the core concerns of international development. It is in no way meant to limit the content of this site, nor form international development imperatives; rather it is to present an idea of the themes and content you will find here. It is our attempt to define international development.

At its core, international development is a concept and a process. As a concept it has moved beyond notions of modernisation and economic development to encompass a more humanistic view focused on individuals, human rights and quality of life. It is concerned with the capabilities of the individual, their potentiality & capacities and the obstacles to achieve what they value most; what they deem necessary. As the paradigm for the concept has shifted, so too has the process of international development and how quality of life is achieved.

As a process, international development is concerned with improving the quality of life for people all over the globe, but particularly in countries that are trapped in poverty. The causes trapping people in poverty include conflict, political repression, low income, lack of economic growth, education opportunities, and trade inequalities. However, improving the quality of life and well-being for individuals is multifaceted and permeates all aspects of life: international development can be said to also permeate all aspects of life. It is concerned with healthcare, education, aid, human rights, sustainability, economic growth, infrastructure, democracy, livelihood opportunities, environment, justice and equity. It is concerned with eliminating poverty and aid dependency. At its root, international development is about capacity building and creating opportunities that can lead to long term solutions and well-being for individuals, families, communities and governments.

When we speak of international development studies, we are talking about the critical examination of this process of change that will enable economic stability, social and political freedoms in the world and the role of all these issues identified above and how they are represented in the process of international development. International development is so complex, that despite efforts going back as far as World War II, populations in many countries continue to live in utterly devastating and life threatening environments. As much as we would like to say we have a solution, we do not. What we do have, however, is the ability to create a space for enabling the discussion and sharing of ideas with others across the world to work towards sustainable solutions. We also have the ability to create a multidisciplinary network of young people studying, volunteering and working across all sectors of international development and human rights. In searching for solutions, international development is as much about coordination and partnerships as it is about policy, programs and knowledge. We can begin to build the foundation of effective coordination and partnerships through a network that is inclusive of the next generation of development professionals.

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