On child labor-A A +A
Saturday, July 14, 2012
RECENT reports state that Western Visayas is the number three area in terms of concentration of various forms of child labor, another admission that indeed this social problem exists.
In 2005-2006, I have led a team that undertook commissioned research studies on this problem. In some similar projects, we did the studies in partnership with Reporter’s Notebook project of the GMA7, and with then Karen Davila’s The Correspondents in ABS-CBN television network. In all these studies I have affirmed one after another that worst forms of child labor pervades in Negros, both urban and rural, but most glaring in sugar farms and other commercial agribusiness estates.
I remembered once that we presented to Bacolod Mayor Evelio Leonardia the phenomenon of child labor in the city. At first he refused to accept the existence of the problem, but when we cornered him with loads of facts, he said, “I will look into it.”
Since then, advocacy on child labor took prominence among non-government organizations, local government units, and eventually among our lawmakers.
Unfortunately, the advocacy takes on and off spells, with most stock in “hot air” and lip-service advocacies for children. There are a number of reasons, but foremost is the problem or absence of a good analytic progressive framework, especially on questions like “Who are really the child laborers?” “What’s the difference between a child laborer and a child working at home?” “What are the governing laws on child labor?”
Well, there are Philippine laws and orders that clearly restrict children from working below the mandated employment age. Children are supposed to enjoy their childhood and develop themselves mentally and physically under the direct supervision of their parents. Yet, despite this, it is a scornful fact that millions of these children are compelled by circumstance to work. What is sad to note about these children is the also the fact that most of them work without papers, no proper processes, nameless and faceless. These conditions simply render them more vulnerable to various forms of exploitation and abuse.
Employers often capitalize on their docility and illiteracy to do dehumanizing and hazardous work with starvation pay. Systematic exploitation and manipulation often stifles their physical and mental development as youth.
Lawmakers, enforcement agencies, and even some non-government agencies fight for child rights enforcement and protection. Others even lobby for the abolition of child labor. However, it is important to point out that, despite of millions of pesos spent for these various programs, they are not felt, especially in communities with high incidence of child workers.
Philippine laws on labor rights and standards are fangless. These rendered laws and declarations on child labor, not only inutile but often times, are taken ambiguously. Anyone would agree that a five-year-old child is too young to work, but whether the same can be said about a twelve-year old child is debatable. Until there is an agreement, which can isolate cases of child labor, it will be very hard to abolish.
There is also the view that work can help a child in terms of socialization, in building self-esteem and for training.
The problem is, then, not child labor itself, but the conditions under which it operates.
Child labor is a pervasive problem throughout the world, especially in developing countries. Africa and Asia together account for over 90 percent of total child employment. Child labor is mostly prevalent in rural areas where the capacity to enforce minimum age requirements for schooling and work is lacking. Children work for a variety of reasons, the most important, being poverty and the induced pressure upon them to escape from this plight.
In our studies, we found out that majority of child laborers are “employed” in sugar cane farms doing (e.g. panghilamon, panghulip, pamatdan, pang-abono, and tapas-karga during harvest season. The next numerous are in rice, corn, orchard farms. They are followed by those in commercial fishing (trawl, haulboat and pursein), fishponds, artisanal fishing, and in very hazardous deep-sea fishing known as “muro-ami” dominated by children. There is also a small percentage work in various rural odd jobs (“kaingin”, charcoal making, woodcutting, small-scale mining, and vending), and a small percentage in domestic work.
Those in urban areas work in street vending (fish, food, and stuff items); others in tribicycle (trisikad) and tricycle driving; in domestic or household work (timbang, yaya, manogluto, errand work). The rest are in various odd jobs, like in small eateries (dishwashing, cleaning, and errand work), port stevedoring and warehouses, bus or jeep terminals (as baggage hauler, dispatcher, and conductor), pyrotechnics business (firecrackers making); small handicrafts (as helpers, cleaners and errand work), and a small percentage in sex (pub houses and prostitution den) and entertainment industry (showbiz, fiestas, and public shows).
With all these data, we can only re-affirm that poverty remains as the top condition for the existence and persistence of child labor problem.
What is sad, however, about this is the fact that government and private sectors have not done right and enough to address the roots of poverty, despite their endless bragging on having put up projects and launch advocacies to end child labor.
The prevailing sad conditions of our children only reflect the kind of development the present government has.
An urgent and general overhaul of existing state development paradigm is needed, because it apparently does not embody the conditions, anxieties, dreams, and aspirations of Filipino children.
To do so, it might be helpful to discern once more on this passage from the Bible, “Unless we become like little children, we cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”
Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on July 14, 2012.