Kids expose selves to risk in search for gold in Toledo

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Sunday, June 29, 2014


BROTHERS Marino and Joseph Mahilum, ages 13 and 6, wake up early every morning to help their father, Vicente, prepare breakfast.

Oftentimes, their viand is dried fish. They seldom have meat on the table.

After eating their meal, they go out of their wooden house in Sitio Buswang, Barangay Cambang-ug, Toledo City to start mining.

Vicente said their work routine is this: they go to the tunnel on the lot owned by a neighbor, dig and place the soil inside sacks and carry these to their small gold processing plant just outside their residence.

They do these without safety gears.

“Naanad na na sila (They are used to it),” said Vicente about his children’s exposure to risk.

Mining is considered a dangerous work and his two sons are among the estimated 250 million child laborers around the world, the World Health Organization reported.

The Mahilums work over eight hours a day.

Children’s Legal Bureau (CLB) lawyer Vincent Isles said Republic Act (RA) 9231, or the Anti-Child Labor Law, does not totally prohibit a minor from working. But it disallows dangerous work for them.

Illegal

He said the term “child labor” has always been associated with illegal employment of children.

Msgr. Esteban Binghay, of the Archdiocese of Cebu, said forcing children to work under harsh conditions is deplorable.

Parents, he said, should strive hard to give education to their children and they should not use poverty as their excuse.

Poverty often forces parents to let their children work at an early age, he said.

For his part, Isles said poverty is the root cause of child labor and globalization contributes to the problem.

He said the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting said: “The escalating price of gold has driven mining operations in the Philippines to new levels, and many mining companies make use of children.”

Child Fund International also reported that “as many as 18,000 children are involved in regional gold mining operations across the Philippines, and currently the country ranks 18th in terms of gold production.”

“As the demand for gold increases, along with its price,” it says, “so too will the number of children forced to work.”

Social sciences instructor Jerome Lasala, of Cebu Normal University (CNU), said the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) might minimize the child labor problem in the Philippines.

“It is good the government is doing something to alleviate the condition of the poor,” he said.

Pantawid Pamilya is a “conditional cash transfer (CCT) program that provides cash grants to poor households with children 0-18 years old and/or pregnant mothers, provided that they comply with the conditions set by the program,” said DSWD in its website.

Infant mortality

It aims to solve the country’s low educational achievement, high maternal and infant mortality rate, high malnutrition rate and high incidence of child labor.

DSWD 7 information officer Phoebe Jen Indino said there are about 471,800 school children beneficiaries of the Pantawid program in Central Visayas.

“Based on our monitoring, most of the working children are from Negros Oriental and they are children of the sugarcane farmers. However, their work is seasonal. They help their parents during harvest and we do have interventions to prevent them from dropping out from school,” she said.

The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) recorded 219,000 child laborers in Central Visayas.

Provinces

The program operates in 79 provinces covering 1484 municipalities and 143 cities in all 17 regions nationwide as of 26 February 2014.

Beneficiaries receive P500 per month for health and nutrition expenses and P300 per month for every child below 15 years old, maximum of three children, for their education.

A family must comply with conditions to receive the cash grants and these include “periodic checkups, growth monitoring, and vaccinations for children 0-5 years of age; twice a year intake of de-worming pills for children 6-14 years old, pre- and post-natal care for pregnant women and attendance of parents in family development sessions where responsible parenthood is discussed.”

The education conditions include “day-care and school enrollment, attendance equivalent to 85 percent of school days for children 3-18 years old.”

To become a member, one must be listed in the National Household Targeting System-Poverty Reduction, which is a survey conducted by the DSWD.

Not enough

“I’d have wanted to send them to school,” said Vicente in Cebuano. “But my income is not enough.”

The lowest earning he could receive from the lot owner is P300 per week.

Vicente, who is separated from his wife, said they are not recipients of the Pantawid Pamilya.

In its survey, the National Statistics Office estimated 5.5 million children aged five to 17 were working in the country in 2011.

The International Labor Organization also reported in 2011 that there were about “three million children who worked in hazardous environments and an additional 2.5 million children are forced to work in slightly better but still substandard conditions.”

When Marino and Joseph complain of itchiness due to hours of wading in the murky waters of a pond where they extract sands for gold, Vicente said he would only apply crude oil on his sons’ skin.

“I will also let them drink antibiotics if they have fever,” he said. “I just pray the situation wouldn’t get worse.”

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on June 30, 2014.

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