The United States Department of Labor has awarded a Filipina with the first annual Iqbal Masih Award for the Elimination of Child Labor.
US Ambassador Kristie Kenney presented the award to Maria Cecilia Flores-Oebanda of the non-governmental organization Visayan Forum Foundation (VFF) at a ceremony at the US Embassy in Manila.
“It is a great honor to present the Iqbal Masih Award to Cecille, who is a long-time partner of the US Mission in the Philippines in combating exploitive child labor as well as trafficking of women and children for domestic servitude and commercial sexual exploitation,” Kenney said.
“The award recognizes Cecille’s work that has brought real change to the lives of thousands of children in the Philippines,” she added.
The Iqbal Masih Award was established by Congress to recognize the work of an individual, company, organization or national government to end the worst forms of child labor.
The award reflects the spirit of Iqbal Masih, a Pakistani child enslaved at the age of four who escaped servitude and became an outspoken advocate against child slavery.
Tragically, in 1995 at the age of 13 and a year after receiving the Reebok Human Rights Award, Iqbal was killed in Pakistan. His dedication to ending child slavery, however, continues to inspire individuals around the world.
Like Iqbal Masih, Flores-Oebanda was born into poverty. As a child she helped support her family by scavenging; as a teenager she advocated the rights of youth and farm laborers.
Flores-Oebanda later founded and now leads the VFF, a non-governmental organization that has rescued and provided assistance to more than 32,000 victims and potential victims of trafficking.
The VFF has helped to file more than 65 trafficking cases on behalf of more than 165 victims. Flores-Oebanda serves as the Southeast Asia coordinator for the Global March Against Child Labor and is active with other significant events supporting work against child and exploitive labor.
Kenney said the battle against human trafficking is a high priority of the US Government and the American people. –- Pia Lee-Brago, Philippine Star