IN a scathing report made public this week, Human Rights Watch (HRW) had nothing good to say about the Philippine government’s actions – or lack thereof – to eliminate child labor, particularly the most dangerous work children are exposed to in small-scale gold mining.
HRW’s conclusions, which we reported yesterday, are worth repeating: “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.”
Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz took exception to that, of course, saying, “I believe a near-blanket assessment cannot issue from a field research that is limited in its scope. 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.”
That, frankly, is so much meaningless bureaucratic twaddle, and completely misses the point. The limits of the research are irrelevant; children as young as nine years old were found to be working in appallingly dangerous conditions, not only putting their lives at risk at a time when young bodies and minds should be growing and developing in a safe environment, but exposing them to hazards that will very likely have a harmful impact on their health for the rest of their lives. It doesn’t matter the study identified 1,000 children or just a few; if even one child is found in those dire circumstances, the “strategy” has failed. And when that failure can be directly traced to the government’s failure to enforce its own laws and honor its signed legal obligations to international agreements – as the HRW study revealed – then neither Baldoz nor any other government official has the privilege to “take exception” to deserved criticism.
Tacitly approving the out-of-control greed of local officials and business interests that allows the exploitation of children to persist by ignoring it is not “addressing” anything.
Enforcing the law by shutting down dangerous small-scale mines and holding employers and corrupt officials to account is the necessary first step, and a rather easy one. But in order to truly eradicate the need for child labor, the government must step up its efforts to reduce poverty in a substantial way, something that the Aquino Administration has proven unwilling or unable to do.
The next leader of the country, whoever it is, will have many herculean tasks to perform but eradicating child labor, its practice and especially its root causes, should be made a priority. Our children, the future of this country, should never be considered a labor commodity.