THE key to a wonderful future is education. This thought is what the National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC) – Children Basic Sector wishes everyone to hold as a conviction.
To help make it a concrete reality for all Filipino children, the organizers of this November celebration of National Children’s Month (NCM) declared “Isulong: Kalidad na Edukasyon Para sa Lahat ng Bata” (Advance Quality Education for All Children) as the theme of the observance. Needless to say, this theme focuses on the work of providing all Filipino children access to quality education.
In past years the NCM celebration was held in October. But Republic Act 10661 moved it to November to jibe with the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child passed in November 1989. The observance started with a press conference on Friday. It ends on November 28.
Millions of Filipino children of impoverished families don’t go to school. Many of these poor children work at an early age. Their parents’ meager income is not enough for food, clothing, shelter, and medicine.
A baseline study published in 2015 by the Ecumenical Institute for Labor Education Research (EILER) exposed the prevalence of child labor in many mining communities and farming (plantation) areas in our country.
The EILER report says that in plantation communities, about 22.5 percent of households have child workers. In mining communities, children comprised 14 percent of the labor force. The researchers interviewed children as young as five years old working in mines, where most of the mines’ child workers were 12 years old.
About 76 percent of child laborers cannot possibly attend school because they work 10 hours a day, or even 13 to 16 hours a day in the more extreme cases.
There is also a documentary, produced in 2012, showing that in some villages of our archipelago, elementary students break one pencil into three so they can learn to write. Lack of materials for writing, inadequate school facilities and the long distance kids have to travel from home to school make getting a basic education very difficult and, in bad weather, even life-threatening.
We are told that the Social Welfare and Development and the other government departments—specially Education and Health—are all determined to uphold children’s rights. They should prioritize the rights of children from impoverished families.
Government agencies, civil society organizations, and individuals and private institutions concerned with children’s rights should focus their efforts on helping children from the poorest sectors. These are the children who come from urban poor communities, whose parents struggle with the greatest difficulty to find a means of livelihood so they can feed their families and keep a roof over their heads.
Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo said in connection with the NCM celebration, “They (the children from the poorest sectors) are the ones we should give the most attention to as we promote programs that champion children’s rights – their right to be fed, clothed, protected from abuse and exploitation, and provided with the means to go to school and to learn.”
The Philippines, being a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, is committed to uphold this Convention. The government agencies should all therefore zealously pursue all appropriate measures to ensure the protection of children and their enjoyment of the rights stated in the Convention.
Secretary Taguiwalo also said, in words that seem to be addressed both to her fellow government officials and the entire Filipino citizenry:
“Our efforts to change society must include and give priority to efforts to help children, most especially those who come from families who can barely address their own needs. We must all work together to address the issues of low wages, landlessness, widespread lack of productive and sustainable means of livelihood, and lack of job security which affect the majority of Filipinos so they themselves can become empowered to help their own families and their most vulnerable members – the children.”