MANILA, Philippines – More Filipino children nationwide face the prospect of leaving school and working at a young age due to the prevailing global economic crisis, the International Labor Organization (ILO) warned yesterday.
ILO executive director Linda Wirth said the mass retrenchment of workers as a result of the crisis might significantly push up the number of child laborers in the Philippines.
Currently, there are 2.3 million child laborers in the country.
“Though there is yet no concrete evidence of the effects of the downturn on education, the risk to increased child labor is a threat as more families withdraw their children from school due to a need for additional hands to supplement decreasing income,” Wirth said.
Wirth explained that family income levels, school enrollment, adult literacy, income inequality, structural, ethnic and demographic variables are side factors that contribute to the incidence of child labor.
“Whenever enrollment rates drop, a rise among 10- to 14-year-old workers soon follows in the Philippines and other developing countries,” Wirth said.
According to Wirth, household incomes in the Philippines have dropped as 109,529 workers have been permanently displaced or affected due to the crisis since October 2008 and they have had to find means to cope with and meet basic needs.
“The crisis has spread expansively to the actual economy, producing job crisis in the Philippines that (has) severe consequences on enterprises, workers and families,” Wirth said.
Workers affected by the crisis cope in different ways, with some cutting their leisure activities, adjusting their expenditures on food, health and education, or lessening their financial support to extended families.
“They had to sell their appliances and reduce their consumption of food, water and electricity. Most had been sending money to parents but had been forced to reduce remittances or provide for them less regularly,” Wirth said.
In a report entitled “A Gender Perspective in Labor Market Governance,” the ILO also reported that companies reeling from the economic crisis would lure child workers because of cheap labor costs.
“Children are docile and obedient to authority, and they are willing to work for low wages which makes them more attractive to employers,” the ILO further said.
In 2001, the National Statistics Office (NSO) reported that there are four million working children aged five to seven. Seven out of 10 working children are located in rural areas where child labor is prevalent.
The figure dropped to 2.29 million in 2007 as the government, particularly the Department of Labor and Employment, launched an intensified campaign to eliminate all forms of child labor.
The ILO said child labor is among the “dysfunctional conditions” observed in the Philippine labor market. Two major reasons cited for child labor are low household savings and high poverty incidence rates.
Despite the crisis, the ILO said social security institutions in the Philippines remain.
Wirth said the Social Security System continues to post an increase in collections throughout 2008, except in December, but in January 2009 collections were “higher than usual.”
“Perhaps because of the fear and uncertainty, people had increased their contributions,” she said. –Mayen Jaymalin, Philippine Star