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Children labor in Philippine mines

Poor minors have to take up working in the mines

Children at a mining site in Bayog town Children at a mining site in Bayog town
  • Jun Pasaylo, Bayog
  • Philippines
  • March 26, 2012
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Ricky (not his real name) starts his day at the break of dawn by packing his pick, mullet and ore buckets.

He then squeezes into one of the more than 200 tunnels of the Warik-warik gold mine near his village in the southern Philippines, where he spends most of the day.

Born to a poor family, Ricky has no option but to endure such  work for the paltry salary of 40 Philippine pesos (about US$1) per day.

Aged 13, Ricky has been working as an “abantero,” or frontline digger, for more than three years in Balabag village.

He is one of more than 100 child workers who toil in the gold-rich hills of the Balabag mines, which employ about 2,000 workers in total for the small-scale operation.

"I want to go to school but my parents could not afford my education," he saidin the local dialect.

He says the mine tunnels that run as deep as 100 meters are his playing grounds. "At first I was afraid because I could hardly breathe. But I got used to it," he says. He works inside the tunnel from eight to 10 hours.

The young miners of Balabag are part of an estimated 2.4 million children, aged between nine and 17, who are "employed" across the country, according to data from the International Labor Organization.

Senator Allan Peter Cayetano, chairman of the Senate Committee on Ethics and Privileges, has expressed concern that more children than reported are engaged in hazardous work such as mining.

"We need to see more government agents checking on industries that hire child laborers and in communities where parents are known to force their children to seek employment,” the senator says.

A local mining operator, however, says there are no children working in the area.

"We do not employ them, they were asked by their parents who work for us to help in transporting the ores," says Julieto Munding, a mining operator in Balabag town.

He blames the government for not telling parents not to let children help in the mines.

Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz says she already directed local officials to look into reported instances of child labor.

“We emphasize the important role of community leaders in identifying, eliminating and preventing the incidence of child labor and the illegal recruitment of minors,” she says.

For Ricky, however, digging gold ore is not an option but a necessity. He says he has to earn a living.

“I know the risks, but I have no choice but to work. I want to go to school.”
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