“Hi, I am Mando. I am 8 years old, and I’m finished with grade 3. I know how to write and to read a little. I am helping my parents in Ma’am Abkasa’s sugar cane field here in Sagay. They treat us fairly. We earn around 70 pesos ($1.30USD) per load, which is around 50 kilos.”
Child labor is rampant in the Philippines and far from disappearing. Thousands of Filipino children no longer attend their local school and instead spend their days toiling in fields, mines or factories.
The Bittersweet Truth of the Philippine Sugar Industry
Central Visayas is one of the Philippine provinces with the most number of child labor cases. With vast sugar cane fields, life in that region reveals the bittersweet truth of child labor existing in the sugar industry.
Children as young as six work the sugarcane fields in the city of Sagay, in Negros Occidental. Many of the children prefer working for extra cash because schools are difficult to access, i.e., far from their homes.
Aside from the sugar cane fields, agricultural sectors are known to have the largest number of children in the workforce. More than 800,00 children are engaged in child labor in Western Visayas alone, most of whom, are exposed to hazardous working conditions.
“No, I don’t want to go back to school. I’m already done with grade 3 and I want to work and help my parents instead. I’m not tired of working, I don’t think I will get tired because if I will not work, we will not have enough income for the day.”
Children Involved in Mining
Child labor involving the agriculture sector is be dangerous for some, but lethal to many. A Rappler report mentioned that more than 18,000 of 350,000 workers in small-scale mining are women and children.
The Philippine government has been criticized several times over the last decade for doing nothing about child labor. Child labor was abolished many years ago but it is not enforced. The PH government has recently put forward legislation to legalize small scale mining further exasperating the belief that child labor will increase. To be fair, government programs are being established to fully eliminate child labor in the mining industry. When will they take effect is another question altogether.
“I was earning money so I didn’t think about my studies,” Archie, a one-time child laborer, shared. “All I thought about was mining. Now that I have matured, I realize that education is important. Mining will always be around but the opportunity to study will be gone.”
As the new administration pushes small scale mining to assist in eliminating child labor, some families are still appealing to allow their children to work in the mines. Obviously, these appeals are being met with heavy resistance. Aside from depriving the child of an education, children who participate in mining are also being placed at risk of health hazards for high mercury levels and other hazardous compounds.
“Filipino children are working in absolutely terrifying conditions in small-scale gold mines,” said Juliane Kippenberg, associate children’s rights director at Human Rights Watch. “The Philippine government prohibits dangerous child labor, but has done very little to enforce the law.”
Thin to Zero Options
Child labor is a devastating reality with few, if any, solutions. During an interview with Mando and his siblings, it was revealed that they’ve lost hope in terms of having a bright future. Mandi and his six siblings shared that they would rather help their parents instead of going to school.
“Because it’s easier if we have more kids, we have more hands to help us. I cannot afford to send them to school, Ma’am, it’s too expensive for us and they have to walk very far to go to school since we don’t have educational institutions in our area.” Mando’s mother shared during an interview with PhilippineOne. “The landowner, our boss, offered to send our children to school until they would finish high school, but my children don’t want to go back t school, they only want to help us here in the field.”
Despite the offer of providing education for their children, Mando and his siblings are hesitant to leave their parents. They would rather choose to help and earn money instead of pursuing their education and prepare for the future. He shared that education may be a good offer, but it does not provide an immediate solution to the poverty that they are experiencing.
Mando and his siblings are only a few of the child laborers that have lost their hope with the government. Despite the efforts of local officials to provide education to these children, lack of funding is one of their major concerns.
It All Returns to Government Support
LGU (Local Government Unit) have been doing their best to aid farmers, miners and other families involved in child labor. It’s been an ongoing dilemma that the government has yet to resolve. As of 2017, the government and NGO’s (Non-Government Organizations) launched a program where they’d work together to abolish child labor one step at a time.
“We have to start with the miners, gold traders, refiners and end users. We need to be sure that along the supply chain we put in place appropriate mechanism to ensure that gold is child-labor free,” Lalaina Razafindrakoto, Caring Gold project director, said during an interview with ABS-CBN.
The Department of Social Welfare and Development launched a project called the Strategic Help Desks for Information, Education, Livelihood and other Developmental Interventions. The project provides support to families that want to find alternative income and move away from allowing their children to work instead of getting education. According to Labor Undersecretary, Joel Maglunsod, if the government is unable to vastly improve the economy, child labor will never be resolved.
Walking down the streets of Bacolod City (located in Negros Occidental, Visayas) I see street children everywhere and I can’t help but feel frustrated. While some roam freely and beg for money, there are those who would rather work (by selling rugs, vegetables, pick up plastic bottles, etc.) in exchange for loose change. As much as I want to help them, I can’t in terms of monetary aid, but I can, however, raise awareness. Let us work together and provide a lasting solution to abolish child labor. May it be as simple as providing their parents a stable job, or sending at least one of them to school. A little help can go a long way.
Written by Abbie Uychiat
Abbie Uychiat studied BS Psychology and is an aspiring independent film director based in the Philippines. She is a dreamer and is juggling the joys of single motherhood, her career as a recruitment specialist and a freelance writer. Part of her mission is to provide a better and cleaner Philippines for the future generation.