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Not enough done to combat child labour

MANILA/DAVAO CITY (UCAN) : Jenny’s father drives a passenger jeep to try and provide for a burgeoning family, but Jenny still knows it is not enough to make ends meet.

That is why the grade nine student wakes every morning at 3.00am 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 said.

“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 ($15.6), 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 ($23.4) 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 Labour Organisation (ILO), there are at least 2.1 million people who are considered child labourers in the country.

Data from the Philippine Statistics Authority shows about 95 per cent of child labourers 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 Labour, the ILO said there is “empirical evidence” of how child labour and limited education leads to more vulnerable young people 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 with fair income, workplace security and social protection for families, among other aspects.

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

The organisation has built six centres 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 programme to address what it called the “intergenerational poverty” among poor Filipino families.

As part of the programme, 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 centres.

Non-government groups helping children, however, say the programme 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, said.

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

“Statistics and experience show us that the government programme 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 labour in the country.

In an interview late last year, Labour 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 labour. 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 is almost 15 and earns about one dollar a day.


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