OUR country is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. We have enough laws against child labor. And yet the worst forms of child labor can still be found in many parts of the country today, according to a recent European Commission-funded study.
The EU report said Filipino children as young as 5 years are already engaged in child labor, with the most glaring incidence of violation involving the use of drugs for minors so they could withstand 16 hours of work in mining areas.
The report said the incidence of child labor in mining communities is 14.2 percent, of which 93.75 percent are boys and 6.25 percent are girls. Girls in mines are part of the indirect employment in small-scale mines.
This is quite alarming because mining is already marked as one of the deadliest forms of employment. The occurrence of accidents in small scale mines is 6-7 times higher than in large scale mines, according to the International Labor Organization.
Aside from mining, there is also an alarming incidence of child labor in sugarcane plantations.
“Extreme cases of worsening working conditions for child laborers in sugarcane plantations show how children are brought to plantations that are far from their hometown. Trucks would pick them up and bring them to ‘camps’ that are located in nearby provinces to stay and work there from two weeks to one month without their parents. They stay and sleep in makeshift tents within the plantation,” the EU report said.
The worst forms of child labor as defined by Article 3 of the ILO Convention No. 182 are the following:
All forms of slavery or practices similar to slavery, such as the sale and trafficking of children, bondage and serfdom, and forced or compulsory labor, including forced and compulsory recruitment of children for use in armed conflict;
The use, procurement or offering of children for prostitution, for the production of pornography or for pornographic performances;
The use, procurement or offering of a child for illicit activities, in particular for drug trafficking, trade or production.
The government clearly needs to implement existing laws or perhaps even implement tougher penalties against employers that illegally employ child workers to curb these abuses.
The root of child labor as we all know is poverty and the lack of decent work for parents of the child workers. They deny their children the chance to attend school and learn the skills they need to become productive adults and force their kids to work to earn income for their families.
We need to create more employment opportunities for Filipino workers so children are not forced to drop out of school to earn income or work in hazardous conditions.
If the parents of child workers would have jobs these children would not have to resort to working to earn income for their families.
Isn’t this what the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) program of the government supposedly provides? That parents have to keep their children in school in order to avail of state subsidies?
The National Statistics Office (NSO) has said there are currently 5.5 million child laborers aged 5-17 in the country, around 3 million of whom are exposed to environments that are considered hazardous brought about by poor working conditions.
It seems the best way to protect our children is to provide better livelihood opportunities to their families. The CCT dole out to their parents is hardly working.
Despite the many studies and reports on the issue, I would say the incidence of Filipino children in prostitution, pornography and the sex tourism industry, as well as agriculture, domestic work, drug trafficking and child soldiering, is probably even higher than reported.
Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz has said the Philippines is the only country in Asia and the Pacific Region that received an assessment of “significant advancement” for making several tangible efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labor.
This is according to the United States’ Department of Labor [U.S. DOL] study, “2013 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor.”
And yet, every day, a casual audit of news stories from various media would reveal Filipino children still being trafficked from rural to urban areas for forced domestic service and prostitution, or reports of child soldiering in Muslim secessionist movements and other rebel groups, or Filipino children still being exploited in agriculture, or employed as domestic servants, or working in home-based manufacturing like making fireworks.
Again, the government must strengthen its legal and policy framework against child labor. Legislation for stiffer penalties against abusers must be pursued.
Existing social protection programs are clearly not sufficient and there are significant gaps in the enforcement of existing laws.
Congress must look into increasing fines, revising child labor rules, and the executive must reinvigorate enforcement of anti-child labor laws to ensure the safety of children.