“Hi, I am Mando. I am already 8, 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 per load, which is around 50 kilos.”
Child labor is till rampant in the Philippines. It is something unavoidable and is yet to be resolved. Thousands of children are still experiencing child labor, and the worst thing about it is the fact that it is the children’s decision to stop going to school and work instead.
The Bittersweet Truth of the Philippine Sugar Industry
Central Visayas is one of the regions in the Philippines with the greatest number of child labor cases. With the vast sugar cane fields, life in the province reveals the bittersweet truth of child labor in the sugar industry.
Children as young as 6 years old would go into the sugarcane fields in the city of Sagay, in Negros Occidental. Most of the children prefer to work in the cane fields with their parents to have ab extra income. Majority of the children in Sagay would choose to work because they have little to no access to schools, let alone earn enough for them to spend while in school.
Aside from the sugar cane fields, it was mentioned that agricultural sectors have the biggest number of child labor. More than 800,00 children are engaging in child labor in Wester Visayas alone, most of which 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 agri-sector may be dangerous for some, but it is lethal for many. A report from Rappler mentioned that more than 18,000 out of 350,000 workers in small-scale mining are women and children.
The Philippine government was slammed by various international sectors for taking child labor for granted. In the light of having child labor abolished, the PH government is making a move by legalizing small scale mining. It was mentioned that government programs are also being established to fully eliminate child labor in the mining industry.
“I was earning money so I didn’t think about my studies,” Archie, who was once involved in child labor through mining shared. “All I thought about was mining. Now that I have matured, I realized that education is important. Mining will just be there but the opportunity to study will be gone.”
As the new administration pushed for small scale mining with the hopes of eliminating child labor, some families are still open with having their children help them look for gold. Aside from depriving the child of an education, children who participate in mining are also being placed at risk of health hazards as they are exposed to high mercury levels and other hazardous compounds.
“Filipino children are working in absolutely terrifying conditions in small-scale gold mines,” Juliane Kippenberg, associate children’s rights director at Human Rights Watch said in a documentary on children working on mining. “The Philippine government prohibits dangerous child labor, but has done very little to enforce the law”
Thin to Zero Option
Child labor is a devastating reality with little to zero solution. 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 earn 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 lost their hope in 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 Goes Back to Government Support
LGU 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 is yet to resolve. As of 2017, the government and NGO’s 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 launch their project known as the Strategic Help Desks for Information, Education, Livelihood and other Developmental Interventions. The project is said to provide support to families that would want to find alternative income and shy away from the concept of allowing their children to work instead of getting education. According to Labor Undersecretary Joel Maglunsod, if the government would not be able to improve the economy, child labor would not be resolved.
Writer’s Note: Walking down the streets of Bacolod City (located in Negros Occidental, Visayas) I can’t help but feel frustrated as I’d get to see street children everywhere. While some would freely roam around 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 don’t think 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 small help can go a long way.
This article was written in 2019 by Abbie Ulychiat but is still relevant today