Mohammad Manan Ansari - A Child Worker from Jharkhand to Geneva

He is no slumdog millionaire. But Mohammad Manan Ansari’s life also 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 he was eight until rescued by child rights activists.

Now, as a grand finale to his adventures, he will address a gathering at the International Labour Conference in Geneva on Friday June 12, the World Day against child labour — just reward for someone who has made the transition from child labour to child activist and rescued another eight kids from exploitation.

Working in the mica mines can be life-threatening, but Manan says the residents of his village, Samsahiriya, cling to it tenaciously. Families are large — his own has 10 members — and every paisa helps. “More than half the children of our village are engaged in mica-mining and so are their parents. The youngest are 6-7 years old,” he says.

It was tough work. Some of the minerals may be found on the surface but a good bit has to be gouged out of the bowels of the earth accessed through tunnels. Cuts, scratches and injuries from the iron implements are everyday affairs. But, inside the “khadan” (mine), if the roof of the tunnel collapses, it can cause death. And Manan says that 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 in the morning and continue till 4 in the evening. The day’s haul would then be sold to agents, the price varying according to the quality. A kilo of ore may sell for as low as Rs 4-8 or go up till Rs 20.

NGO Bachpan Bachao Andolan’s activist Govinda Prasad Khanal convinced Manan’s parents to let him off. Manan, then 10, was first 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 too. He managed to draw away about eight children from the mines, into classrooms. “I would visit their families repeatedly, even land up on my way to school and ask the kids to come along. I’d tell them that if they didn’t allow their kids to study, the next generation too will suffer. It took many attempts before they were convinced,” he says.

Sometime back, Manan returned to Jaipur. Back home, the closest school that offers beyond class six is 15-20 kilometres away. He has recently completed standard seven, graduating with a commendable score of 80.27%. With their son opting out, his family has had to forego the Rs 30 he made per day but they aren’t complaining. They accompanied Manan to Delhi and are thrilled about their son going to Geneva. As for Manan, he has a brand new pair of jeans and a brown T stowed away for the occasion. The boy from Koderma is ready to fly.

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