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Not enough done to combat child labor in Philippines, critics say

Government touts efforts to eradicate hazardous work, but problem persists

Joe Torres in Manila and Jefry Tupas, Davao City

Joe Torres in Manila and Jefry Tupas, Davao City

Updated: June 15, 2015 12:04 AM GMT
Mission in Asia | Make a Contribution
Mission in Asia | Make a Contribution
Not enough done to combat child labor in Philippines, critics say

In this file photo, children make charcoal from discarded wood and flotsam near Manila Bay (Photo by Vincent Go)

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Jenny's father drives a passenger jeep to try and provide for a burgeoning family, but Jenny still knows it’s not enough to make ends meet.

That’s why the Grade 9 student wakes every morning at 3am to walk the streets of Davao City, scouring trash bins for something she can sell to recycling shops.

“It’s not an easy job,” Jenny* told ucanews.com. “This is not for everyone. But I needed to work or I will not be able to go to school. I only want to help my family.”

On a decent day, Jenny can take home about US$2, most of which she gives her mother to buy rice. The rest she keeps for school. There are days, however, when the girl goes home without a single penny.

Like Jenny, 12-year-old Ramon also helps support his family. He works at a sugarcane plantation in Mindanao’s Bukidnon province, earning about $3 a day.

“It is hard,” he said. “The landlord does not allow us to take a rest … but I need to work or we will starve.”

Jenny and Ramon are among multitudes of working children in the Philippines. According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), there are at least 2.1 million people who are considered child laborers in the Philippines.

Data from the Philippine Statistics Authority shows about 95 percent of child laborers in the country are involved in hazardous work on farms, in plantations, in mines, on city streets, in factories, and even in private homes as child domestic workers.

In a report launched this month to mark the World Day Against Child Labor, the ILO said there is “empirical evidence” of how child labor and limited education leads to more vulnerable youth and more difficult transitions to better — and safer — jobs.

The report found that child workers are more likely to have to settle for low-paying or unpaid family jobs when they become adults. A child that works in a hazardous job is more likely to be poorly educated, and less likely to have a job in adulthood that meets basic criteria for “decent work” — fair income, workplace security and social protection for families, among other aspects.

The Philippine government and local agencies have made attempts to address child labor. In Davao City, for example, the Ecumenical Institute for Labor Education and Research introduced a program encouraging children working in hazardous industries such as mining and agriculture plantations to return to or integrate into formal schooling.

The organization has built six centers in different areas, where child workers are given special classes. Parents are provided with alternative sources of livelihood.

In 2012, the Philippine government launched the Conditional Cash Transfer program to address what it called the "intergenerational poverty" among poor Filipino families.

As part of the program, poor families are given monthly allowances on the condition that children will be sent to school, have regular medical check ups, and that pregnant mothers will go for maternity check-ups in government health centers.

Non-government groups helping children, however, say the program does not address the root of the problem.

"Government data itself shows that children continue to work in hazardous places," Kharlo Manano, secretary general of Salinlahi Alliance for Children's Concerns, told ucanews.com.

He said poverty continues to push children out of schools and into workplaces. Manano cited the government’s “Child Labor Free Philippines” program, launched in 2012. The program had aimed to cut the number of child workers in the country by 75 percent as well as eradicate the worst forms of child labor by 2016.

"Statistics and experience show us that the government program was only lip service," Manano said. ”We should continue to demand … the government to fulfill its responsibility to our children.”

However, authorities have argued that the government is doing its best to end child labor in the country.

In an interview late last year, Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz said the government is tackling the problem “one village at a time”.

Earlier this year, the secretary announced that six barangays, or districts, in Mountain province had been declared free of child labor. There are more than 42,000 barangays in the Philippines.

Back in Davao City, children are still working.

“I volunteered to work when I was six years old,” said Marie, a child worker. “At first I only joined my parents who were working on a farm. My task was to bring them water.”

She started working “full-time” when she was 11, she said. Now, she’s almost 15 and earns about one dollar a day.

*The names of children quoted in this story have been changed to protect their identities.

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