Child labor: the grim truth

Published by rudy Date posted on May 24, 2011

At 15 years old, Avelino is already earning for his family. “Batang packer” as he is called, Avelino carries 50 kilos of gravel a day for P500 in the mines of Compostela Valley. “Gusto ko hindi na ako magtrabaho kaso lang wala akong pera. Kung hindi ka magtatrabaho wala kang kakainin,” (I don’t want to work, but we have no money. If I will not work, we will not eat), he said.

Like Avelino, two minors were rescued in San Francisco, Agusan del Sur by S.O.S, a Tacloban-based non-government organization, after they were found to have been put to work hauling cut logs in one of the hinterland areas of the said municipality. There are reports about minors in the Caraga region were used as substitutes for carabaos in hauling logs in hinterland areas.

These children are just a few out of the millions who are engaged in child labor in the Philippines. Many as young as seven years old, are exploited in agriculture, mining or employed as domestic servants. Often, they work long hours, perform physically arduous tasks, use dangerous tools, and face a high risk of occupational injury. Often times, they are susceptible to sexual harassment and physical abuse.

Defining child labor

To have a better understanding on the issue and problem of child labor, its definition must be known first. In the Philippines, a child is defined as a person below the age of 18 years old. The term child acquired a new meaning based on Republic Act 7610 or “Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act.” A child refers to “person below eighteen (18) years of age or those over but are unable to fully take care of themselves or protect themselves from abuse, neglect, cruelty, exploitation or discrimination because of a physical or mental disability or condition.”

While there is a clear-cut definition of the term “child,” child labor is interpreted in many ways. In general, it is the participation of children in a variety of work situations, more or less on a regular basis, to earn a living for themselves or others.

If we are going to distinguish child labor from child work, not all types of child work are considered child labor. Child labor refers only to economic activities or “those activities which are socially useful and remunerable, requiring manual and/or intellectual effort, which result in the production of goods or performance of services.” It excludes household chores and also mendicancy.

The International Labor Organization-International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labor (ILO-IPEC) defines child labor as “work situations where children are compelled to work on a regular basis to earn a living for themselves and their families, and as a result are disadvantaged educationally and socially; where children work in conditions that are exploitative and damaging to their health and to their physical and mental development; where children are separated from their families, often deprived of educational and training opportunities; where children are forced to lead prematurely adult lives.”

In the Philippines, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) defined that child labor refers to any work or economic activity performed by a child that subjects him/her to any form of exploitation or is harmful to his/her health and safety or physical, mental or psychosocial development. Child labor as defined by R.A. 9231 as refers to the use of children in slavery including armed conflict, prostitution, pornography, illegal activities including production and trafficking of drugs, and work that is hazardous to the health, safety, or morals of children.

Local child labor

Globally, it is estimated that there are 215 million child laborers in 2010, according to ILO. These children are working long hours, risking their health and lives in hazardous work. The Philippines is one of the 120 countries where the “worst form of child labor” continue to exist and perpetuate a cycle of poverty.

According to the Philippine Labor Force survey, as of April 2010, there were 2.4 million working child in the country.

The DOLE’s Institute of Labor Studies, in 2009, estimated that 1.196 million children are found in agriculture, hunting and forestry industry accounting for 56% of the total number of working children.

There are more male than female working children and majority of them only reached elementary level.

As a consequence, these children are denied of their inherent right to study and attend school. In the Philippines, the dropout rate for elementary students has increased over the last 3 years, rising from an average of 5.99% in 2007-08 to 6.28% in 2009-10. According to data from the Department of Education (DepEd), 803,836 students dropped out in elementary and 434,517 in high school for school year 2009-2010.

Due to poverty

Child labor is rooted in poverty and the lack of economic opportunities. It is often a response by the household to the need to satisfy basic requirements. Children are also impelled to work from an early age so as to compensate as much as possible for the economic burden that he/she represents and to share in the maintenance of his/her family, which is usually a very large one.

According to Labor Undersecretary Lourdes Trasmonte, the widespread poverty made fighting child labor more challenging in a country where more than 23 million people—or 26.5 percent of the population—survive on around P46 ($1) a day or less.

“The root cause is still poverty. The only asset the poor have is their labor. Children are brought in to work because that is the only asset the family has,” she added.

Another reason is the failures in the education system. Parent prefer to send their children out to work rather than in school, either because of an absence of school within a reasonable distance from their home, or because they cannot do without the income the working child brings in, or they cannot meet the costs of sending their children to school. Another factor is also the demand for child workers. Children represent a docile work force and seldom complain. Above all, employers who hire children gain a competitive advantage in both national and international markets due to the low wages they pay children. –PM Miraluna Tacadao, http://thepoc.net/thepoc-features/politi-ko/politiko-features/12148-child-labor-the-grim-truth.html

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