India Beyond Coal

Nov 8 2012

Dragged into the rat hole

This blog was contributed by Risa Monica Kharmutee, Media Centre, Impulse NGO Network, Shillong.

Impulse NGO Network fights for child rights, especially combating child trafficking under the Meghalaya Model, on the issue of combating child trafficking from the borders of Nepal and Bangladesh to the coal mines of Jaintia Hills district, Meghalaya.

Coal mining has been a growing industry in Meghalaya especially in Jaintia Hills, where the mining industry has really grown over the past thirty years. According to the report by the Impulse NGO Network, the working conditions at the mines are extremely hazardous. Since majority of the labourers are children, they are sent deep inside the mines to cut coal and work in small tunnels known as “rat holes”.

Approximately 49% of the Jaintia Hills District’s population live under the poverty line and the literacy rate is around 53%. The living conditions of the children are inhumane and unsanitary. Furthermore, children working on the mines are not permitted to go to school for this might disrupt their work.

According to the report, children have been working in these mines from when there were 8 or 9 years old. These children are usually taken from their homes by fraudulent means. According to Impulse NGO Network, they are only told that they can earn money to support their family and not about the terrible and dangerous working conditions, which they discover when they arrive at the mines.

The rat holes are approximately a kilometre long and only tall enough for children to crouch in whilst working. There are no measures in place to protect against cave-ins, and no lighting is provided.

The children are scared of the cave-ins that often happen and they want to quit but the situation is such that they can’t. They have no money to go and it’s difficult to save up money since the living expenses are high and they are paid with a meagre sum, according to the report.

Find more information on the issue on these documents:

Investigation of Child Trafficking in the Coal Mines of Jaintia Hills District, Meghalaya, India (PDF)

An Exploratory Study of Children engaged in Rathole Mining in the Coal Mines of Jaintia Hills District, Meghalaya (PDF)

Report on Child Labour in the Mines of Meghalaya Fact Finding Mission of Human Rights Now to India (PDF)

Written by Renuka Saroha