Child Labour & recycling of batteries



There are two different types of batteries: primary and secondary. The chemical reactions that occur in primary batteries are irreversible, the stored energy can be used only once making the battery disposable. The chemical reactions that occur in secondary batteries are however reversible. These batteries can be recharged many times and gradually lose the ability to take and release energy.

There are many types of household batteries with different variations of chemical soups. The ingredients may include:

  • toxic heavy metals like mercury, cadmium, zinc, lead, manganese dioxide/manganese (IV) oxide
  • ammonium chloride salt (sodium and chlorine)
  • zinc chloride
  • silver oxide
  • carbon dust (also known as black dust)
  • car batteries also use hydrochloric

The vast recycling business in South Asia is divers, but the recycling of household batteries exceeds all of them. The whole day, children are hitting with hammers on batteries. They collect reusable carbon rods and sell it to factories who re-use it or melt them. Meanwhile, the skin and lungs of the children are filled with black dust and with the other listed toxic substances. What a prospect…not.

Child workers in battery recharging/recycling establishments are in particular investigated in Bangladesh and China. But also East-India (mainly Calcutta) is infected.


According to Baseline Survey on Child Workers in Battery, Recharging/Recycling Sector, 2002-03 by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, there are…

“…a total of 12,207 battery recharging/recycling establishments all over Bangladesh. The survey also estimated a national total of 5,513 child workers aged 5-17 years in these 12,207 establishments. About 36.9 percent of the working children worked 7-8 hours a day and 24.6 percent worked 9 to 10 hours. On an average, the child workers worked 8.2 hours a day. About 23.4 percent of the total working children reported various types of health problems such as fever, burns, headache etc. during the reference period of the survey. Only 13.2 percent of total working children reported using protective gear for avoiding risk. Out of 5513 working children, 824 or 15 percent were found to be abused by owners/employers at work place. Among the abused children a significant share (90.7%) were verbally rebuked/abused.”


Wu Y, Huang Q, Zhou X, Hu G, Wang Z, Li H, et al, describe in Study on the effects of lead from small industry of battery recycling on environment and children’s health the following environmental variables: lead levels in air, soil, drinking water and crops were measured. Biological monitoring: 959 children aged 5 – 12 years were selected from villages where the lead smelters located near the residential areas and the battery disassembling was done in some families. The control children (207 pupils) were from other villages without lead exposure. Blood lead, ZnPP and teeth lead were determined. Height, weight and head circle of children and IQ scores were measured. They concluded…

“…the average lead concentrations in air and soils were 8.5 times and 10 times of the MACs (national health standard) respectively. Eighty-five per cent the air samples with lead concentrations higher than the national health standard. The mean blood lead and ZnPP levels of children lived in the polluted areas were 496 microgram/L and 9.41 microgram/g Hb respectively. The lead exposure caused adverse effects on children’s IQ and physical development.”


Some years ago I roamed along the slums of Calcutta, ending up in what is called Dhobia Tola. I saw many blackened kids hitting batteries in most slums, but Dhobia Tola beats them all. There are many studies about the ragpickers of Kolkata, but none about the battery industry. There is even no information available on toxic exposures to children in India. On the Internet and at universities of Kolkata, data are lacking on all aspects of this subject: numbers of children exposed, duration of exposure, substances involved, resulting illnesses, and long-term effects. But in general, data are unavailable by country, by region, or globally. A missing link?

According to an article in The Telegraph (15/01/1998), a person should at least consume 400 grams of cereal per day to rise above the poverty line, but each day a person has 300 grams of grain to survive. If it is less, then you simply do not exist. Roughly, one can assume that all poor people, who use up between 300 and 400 grams per day, consume an average of 350 grams per day. In other words, only 50 grams of cereals per person per day is needed to rise above the poverty line. In places like Dhobia Tola, the fight about 50 grams is a necessity, among other things resulting in kids recycling batteries.


Let us cut the crap and list all possible health problems the kids are dealing with. Lead poisoning leads to vomiting, muscle and general weakness, loss of appetite, anemia, kidney problems, neurological disorders, brain damage, unconsciousness and possible convulsions, eventually followed by death.

Mercury poisoning leads to sensory impairment (vision, hearing, speech), disturbed sensation, lack of coordination, peripheral neuropathy (presenting as paresthesia or itching, burning or pain), skin discoloration (pink cheeks, fingertips and toes), swelling, desquamation (shedding of skin), profuse sweating, persistently faster-than-normal heart beat, increased salivation, hypertension (high blood pressure), increased sensitivity to light, kidney dysfunction, neuropsychiatric symptoms such as emotional lability, memory impairment, or insomnia.

Carbon dust does not irritate the skin, but fine particles can become embedded in the skin and trapped in hair follicles causing discolouration (carbon black tattoos) and follicular blackheads. High concentrations of dust can overwhelm the clearance capacity of the lungs, obstruct the lungs, and interfere with lung function. Symptoms may include coughing, increased phlegm production, and shortness of breath. It also leads to reduced lung function, emphysema and/or chronic bronchitis, fibrosis (scarring of the lungs).

Manganese dioxide may enter the body via the lungs or digestive tract. Dust from the atmosphere or from contaminated hands or food may also enter the mouth and be swallowed. Absorbed manganese accumulates in the blood leads to deposition in the majority of the body’s organs, loss of weight, loss of appetite, headaches, dizziness, somnolence, apathy and in the end it affects the nervous system.

Zinc poisoning result into vomiting, stomach cramps, diarrhea, low blood pressure, urine retention, jaundice, seizures, joint pain, fever, coughing and a metallic taste in the mouth.

The symptoms of cadmium poisoning are chills, fever, muscle ache, tracheo-bronchitis, pneumonitis, pulmonary edema, cough, dryness and irritation of the nose and throat, headache, dizziness, weakness, fever, chills, chest pain, liver and kidney problems (kidneys can shrink up to 30%, this is irreversible). The bones become soft (osteomalacia), kids lose bone mineral density (osteoporosis) and become weaker.

I count 94 symptoms which could infect these children. Do we need to say more? Is there any future for these kids? Are they able to concentrate on school? Should they resist all forms of cancer or even premature aging? What are their dreams which they are still able to achieve?


The battery recharging/recycling establishments are not mentioned by any NGO in the world, by means of a campaign, research or study. I am not making an attempt…no way. I just wanted to put the issue on the map and thus ratifying any campaign which is fighting against child labour. Maybe someday, someone will do a solid research to solve the missing link as mentioned. This so-called recycling business is a total misery and ugliness of a forgotten industry.

Portret 2AUTHOR: Drs. H.R.J. Sluijter
E-MAIL: info [at]

3 thoughts on “Child Labour & recycling of batteries

  1. Lisa Thompson zegt:

    Here in Dhaka on the World Day Against Child Labour. Just watched a documentary on TV on this topic (in Bangla) presented at the Child Labour Documentary Film Festival organised by Development Communication Network (DCN). Unfortunately, don’t know name of filmmaker or name of film and I wish it was also in English

  2. zegt:

    Having read this I believed it was really enlightening.

    I appreciate you spending some time and effort to put this
    content together. I once again find myself spending a lot
    of time both reading and posting comments. But so what, it
    was still worth it!

  3. Pranab zegt:

    thanks for working on it.I am doing some work in Bangladesh and Try to find out more on it.

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