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Fairy-tale ride for child miner

Friday, June 12, 2009, Shreya Roy Chowdhury | Times News Network


Mohd Mannan (TOI Photo)

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He’s no slumdog millionaire, but Mohammad Manan Ansari’s life reads like a fairy tale. The 14-year-old boy from an obscure village in Jharkhand’s poverty-ridden Koderma district worked in the mica mines since the age of eight, until he was rescued by child rights activists.

On Friday, June 12—the World Day Against Child Labour—he will address a gathering at the International Labour Conference in Geneva. In a journey that’s especially remarkable for someone so young, Manan has gone from being a child labourer to being a child activist, and has already rescued eight children from exploitation.

Working in the mica mines is ugly, but according to Manan, the residents of his village, Samsahiriya, cling to it tenaciously. Given their large families—his own has ten members—every rupee helps. Kids are put to work to supplement the family income. “More than half the children in our village are engaged in mining mica, and so are their parents. The youngest labourers are six or seven years old,’’ he says.


Mining is tough work. Some minerals may be found on the surface but a good bit has to be gouged from the bowels of the earth, and can be accessed only through tunnels. Cuts and injuries from the iron implements are everyday occurrences. But inside the khadan (mine), the risk of death is ever present—if the roof of the tunnel collapses, it can kill, and Manan says many children have died that way.

Entire families dig and sieve together, but each one scouts for mica in a different area. For Manan, the hunt would begin at 10 am and continue until 4 pm. The day’s haul would then be sold to agents. The price would depend on the quality. A kilo of ore might sell for Rs 4 to Rs 8, and high-quality ore might even fetch Rs 20.


Govinda Prasad Khanal of the NGO Bachpan Bachao Andolan convinced Manan’s parents to let him stop work.

‘I urged working kids to go to school’
New Delhi: When a child rights activist urged the parents of Mohammad Manan Ansari, then a 10-year-old mica miner, to let him stop work and go to school instead, they agreed. Manan enrolled at the BBA Bal Ashram, a transit rehabilitation centre near Jaipur, for a while before moving back to his village.

Having tasted a different life, he was eager to help other kids. He managed to get eight children out of the mines and into classrooms. “I’d visit their families repeatedly, even show up on my way to school and ask the kids to come along. I’d tell their families that if they didn’t allow their kids to study and made them work instead, the next generation too would suffer. It took many attempts before they were convinced,’’ he says.

Some time ago, Manan returned to Jaipur to continue school. In his village in Jharkhand, the nearest school that goes beyond Class VI is a good 15-20 km away. Manan recently passed Class VII with a commendable score of 80.27%.

With their son going to school instead of mining mica, the Ansaris have had to forego the Rs 30 he brought home daily, but aren’t complaining. They accompanied Manan to Delhi and are thrilled he is going to Geneva to address a gathering at the International Labour Conference on Friday, June 12, to mark the World Day Against Child Labour. Manan has a new pair of jeans and a T-shirt stowed away for the occassion. The former child labourer from Koderma is ready to fly.




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