THE Aquino administration has not done enough to protect thousands of Filipino children from the hazards of child labor, particularly in illegal small-scale gold mining activities, which put their lives under extreme danger, according to a New York-based human rights group.
The report’s author Jilian Kippenberg, associate children’s rights director, Human Rights Watch (HRW), said Filipino children, as young as 9 years old, are working in absolutely “terrifying conditions” in small-scale gold mines.
“Although the government has ratified treaties and enacted laws to combat the worst forms of child labor, it has largely failed to implement them: The government barely monitors child labor in mining and does not penalize employers or withdraw children from these dangerous work environments,” the HRW report said.
It added, “The government’s lack of concrete action reflects not only insufficient staff and technical capacity, but also a lack of political will by national and local officials to take measures that will not be well-received by the local population in impoverished areas, or by mine owners and traders that rely on child labor.”
The HRW noted that the Philippine government violates its own law, allowing children under the age of 18 to work in hazardous conditions, and as well as international laws on child labor.
According to a 2011 child labor survey, about 3 million children work in hazardous conditions in the Philippines brought about by poverty.
According to HRW, its reports was based on field research conducted between November 2014 and June 2015 in the provinces of Camarines Norte and Masbate.
It interviewed 135 people, including 65 childre—44 boys and 21 girl—working in artisanal and small-scale mining and as well as government officials, including barangay (village) officials and representatives of various sectors and non-government organizations.
Also interviewed were seven boys working in compressor mining and three young adults who started work as children, among them a certain Dennis (not his true name), 14, who said that he was only 13 when he started working.
“I was 13 the first time [I dived]. I felt scared because it’s dark and deep, and it was my first time… Now I’m used to it,” the boy was quoted as saying.
Also interviewed was 9-year-old David, who works at the Boston mine in barangay Capsay in Masbate.
He narrated that his back and feet hurt from carrying the heavy ore from the tunnel to the ball mill.
The Philippine government, HRW pointed out, should improve its child monitoring and protection systems and do more to children who drop out of school, address the ill-effects of poverty and enhance its social support programs.
It called on the government to support the creation of a legal, regulated, child labor-free, small-scale gold mining sector that helps rural families thrive, and also introduce mercury-free processing methods and taking special steps to protect children from mercury.
Furthermore, the right group said, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, as well as international god trading and refining firms, should also put in place robust safeguards to oblige their supplier to source only child labor-free gold and monitor child labor.
The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) has disputed the HRW report, saying the government has not been remiss in its duty to eliminate the worst forms of child labor, including child labor in mining.
“However, I took strong exception to certain assertions in the report that the government has not done nearly enough to protect children from the hazards of child labor in small-scale gold mining and that the government has largely failed to implement laws against the worst forms of child labor. I believe a near-blanket assessment cannot issue from a field research that is limited in its scope,” DOLE Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz said in a statement on Wednesday.
“The DOLE has always been steadfast in addressing child labor and its worst forms through a convergence strategy that brings the government’s child labor programs and services to the barangay level, the basic political structure, and to the family or household, the basic social unit in Philippine society,” she added.