Kids at work
Filipinos are known to work multiple jobs to ensure their offspring’s well-being. They are also known to scrimp and save in order to provide a nurturing environment for the children to achieve their full potential. But the numbers recently released on child laborers in the country are shocking. According to the 2011 Survey on Children, which was funded by the International Labor Organization (ILO) and conducted by the National Statistics Office (NSO), out of 29.019 million Filipino children aged 5 to 17, 18.9 percent are already working. That’s a staggering 5.59 million children, toiling at an age when they should be at play, in school, and enjoying their growing-up years.
It is not a new problem given the poverty that continues to plague millions of Filipino families and that drives children to work in order to help keep their households afloat. But the numbers are still quite disturbing, the 5.59 million being a significant increase from the 4 million Filipino child laborers documented by a 2001 study by the ILO and the US Department of Labor.
“We’re surprised by this,” Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz was reported as saying. “We at the [labor department] reiterate our pledge to do our utmost in making every barangay in the country with high child labor incidence child-labor-free.”
Indeed, the latest figures indicate widespread violations of Republic Act 9231 (also known as the Anti-Child Labor Law), which states: “It is hereby declared to be the policy of the state to provide special protection to children from all forms of abuse, neglect, cruelty, exploitation and discrimination, and other conditions prejudicial to their development including child labor and its worst forms.”
A closer look at the 2011 survey results will show even more problematic developments. Baldoz observed that 69.5 percent of child laborers were still in school, meaning they were studying and working at the same time. NSO administrator Carmelita Ericta said 60 percent of these children were working in agriculture, and the rest in construction sites, mines, quarries, and factories. They face a bleak future, and not only academically speaking. “As they grow older, they also tend to drop out of school. With the younger age group, aged 5 to 9 years old, 90 percent are in school. By the time they reach 15, only half of them are in school,” she said.
Saddest of all, 2.993 million children are working in hazardous situations. “These are the ones exposed to chemicals, biological hazards like bacteria that cause diseases, or physical hazards,” Ericta said.
A 2010 report by US Labor Secretary Hilda Solis to the US Congress identified the Philippines as among more than 120 countries where the “worst forms of child labor” still existed. The report stated that Filipino children were trapped in prostitution, pornography, sex tourism, drug trafficking; a number were serving as child soldiers. It observed in particular that Filipino children, “primarily girls, are trafficked from rural to urban areas for forced domestic service and commercial sex exploitation.”
Even without the survey, it is known that a large number of young children are “employed” in scavenging in various garbage dumps. In the streets, boys and girls hawk sampaguita garlands up to the late hours. As they get older, many of them turn to peddling their tender bodies or “graduate” to a life of crime.
Clearly, the government needs to look deeper into what is behind this terrible problem. ILO country director Lawrence Jeff Johnson pointed out: “We have to get to the root of child labor, which is linked with poverty and lack of decent and productive work. While we strive to keep children in school and away from child labor, we need to ensure decent and productive work for parents and basic social protection for families.”
There is so much to be done, and done now, particularly when one remembers that the Philippines has pledged to reduce by 75 percent the worst forms of child labor by 2015, in keeping with the United Nations’ millennium development goal of universal education. The labor department has begun identifying the areas where child labor is most common. “In carrying out this resolve, we will take it one barangay at a time. We will meet the challenge head-on,” Baldoz promised. This is a challenge that we must meet with full devotion, for the sake of the once and future children, and for the sake of this country itself.
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