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The Beauty Industry’s Darkest Secret

There's a sad truth behind the creation of shimmering beauty items, as lovely as they seem.

For many years, India has been known as the world's greatest producer and exporter of sheet mica, with the majority of mines located in the states of Bihar and Jharkhand. The two regions are among the poorest in India. Due to the fact that many families are on the verge of starvation, it is not uncommon for children to drop out of school and start working in the mine shafts.

Mica, a naturally flaky mineral found in India, is a prominent element in many bright highlighters, eyeshadows, and lip glosses. Mica must first be mined before it can be processed and used in cosmetics, and children are frequently the ones who are in charge of doing so. It is claimed that over 22,000 children as young as 4 years old work in mica mines in Jharkhand and Bihar, while exact figures are unclear due to the unlawful and hidden nature of child labour.

To extract mica, children must enter tight tunnels and caverns; they can fit into them more readily than adults, which is the primary reason for their extensive employment in mica mining. Of course, a desperate attempt to take advantage of any opportunity to make money is a major contributor to the problem. Many families would be unable to afford their basic necessities if their children did not contribute to the family salary.

The majority of children who work in mica mines earn fifty rupees a day, or about seventy cents. Wholesalers, on the other hand, can make over a thousand dollars for a kilogram of good quality mica. This exemplifies the magnitude of exploitation and heinous human rights violations that occur in mica mining. These families make about 10-kilometre treks into the forest bordering her village to set up camp, where they would spend the next few days sifting for the mineral.

Poverty has driven some miners to turn to abandoned caves and mine shafts, where mica is more plentiful. But there is no lighting or safety gear, and they often rely on their knowledge of the terrain to guide them.

Illegal mica mining is associated with numerous dangers to children’s health and safety. Constant exposure to dust can trigger respiratory illnesses, and spending hours digging in soil with their bare hands puts them at risk of skin infections and cuts. Moreover, the mines frequently collapse, threatening children’s lives. Sometimes when the mining shafts cave in, children get trapped under the rocks, and with the mines being unsupervised, there is no way to get adequate help in time. Families live in constant fear of losing their children, and since mining mica is unregulated, they are not eligible for any compensation when accidents happen. Working in illegal mines also makes children vulnerable to sexual and physical abuse or human trafficking.

Raids by forest authorities are also common, and miners sometimes must pay a considerable amount of what they earn as bribes in order to continue working.

Some cosmetic brands are looking into using synthetic mica to help break the cycle of abuse in mica mining. At first appearance, it appears to be a long-term solution: synthetic mica is manufactured in a lab, so no child labour is required. However, the company's supply chain isn't always clear, and there's no guarantee that the alternate form of mica is free of child labour.

Furthermore, it is possible to believe that by purchasing mica cosmetics, we are supporting to child labour. While there is some truth to this, mica extraction is the lifeblood of entire communities in India. As a result, entirely eliminating these products would rob families of their only source of income. Mining the mineral, as exploitative as it is, permits thousands of families to thrive. The poverty and misery in Bihar and Jharkhand would be incomprehensible if mica wasn't available. The moral quandary is obvious, and finding a solution to the issue is quite tough.

However, no child should be forced to work in dangerous conditions or be exploited. To minimize their reliance on illegal mica mining, children and their parents must be empowered and given professional training. Improving living conditions in the mine-affected areas and promoting awareness about the need for education are also priorities.

Rather than simply boycotting mica-containing products, we should step up efforts to create a clean supply chain, control mica mining, and assist rural Indian populations in finding alternative jobs.

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