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The problem with mica

Most people use products containing mica daily, without realizing what the story behind their production is. Mica is a mineral commonly found in products such as cosmetics, paints, and electronics. For most people living in the West, mica is simply something that makes these products shiny. However, extracting mica is often linked to the worst forms of child labor.

India and Madagascar are the two largest exporters of sheet mica globally, with most mica mining happening in illegal mines. The two countries are also the most associated with using children to extract the mineral. Areas where mica mines are located struggle with high poverty rates, so mining mica is often the only thing that lets families put food on the table and survive. With families struggling to earn a living, children often have to supplement their parents’ income.

As mica mining is unregulated and, for the most part, thrives in hiding, there are many dangers associated with it.

Mining mica is a labor intensive process that requires going into narrow shafts that frequently collapse and trap children under the rocks. To find mica, children are forced to go underground, where they often find themselves in complete darkness. The tunnels caving in is not the only threat to children mining mica, however.

They are constantly exposed to dust, which can lead to pneumonia and other respiratory illnesses. In addition to that, lacking appropriate tools, most children use their bare hands to mine mica, which frequently results in cuts and skin infections.
Working in illegal mines puts children at risk of further problems such as physical abuse or modern slavery.

The scale of the problem

The majority of illegal mica mines in India are located in just two states Bihar and Jharkhand, which are among India’s most impoverished. The governance there is weak, so the industry is subject to few, if any, regulations and labor exploitation of both adults and children occurs frequently.

It is estimated that 22,000 children work in mica mines in Jharkhand and Bihar, but as mines that employ children do not report it, giving the exact numbers is impossible.

According to the findings of the US Department of Labor, in Madagascar, around 10,000 children work in the mica sector.

Most of the mines are located in the southern region of Madagascar, where children are charged with tasks ranging from building the mines to extracting and sorting the mineral.