CHILD labor is a reality that is more often than not denied by people who stand to lose face if child labor is confirmed in their areas or by those whose definition and understanding of child labor makes them blind to those who do not fit into their ideas.
“Sa Labor Law, ang premise naa sa formal employment; nagtrabaho sa factory or impresa (The Labor Code defines child labor within formal employment, those who work in factories),” said Joefelle Soco-Carreon, advocacy officer of Kaugmaon Center for Children’s Concerns Foundation Inc., which works with child labor issues in four of the city’s highly industrialized barangays Callawa, Panacan, Ilang, and Tibungco.
This definition does not cover the children in the informal sector who are at greater risk, like the two girls interviewed by Kaugmaon who work as “karitoner” of fertilizers from cargo ships in Tefasco wharf in the dark of the night.
The two girls admit to getting bone-tired after a night’s work and thus would often miss Monday classes because they would be pushing carts loaded with sacks of fertilizers the whole evening until the early hours of dawn.
They do not wear any protective gears even as sacks upon sacks of fertilizers are dumped on their carts, the powdery residue puffing like clouds for all of them to inhale.
Four brothers, the youngest just 7, sell spices along the road covering Fatima, Katwalan, Lapuy, Callawa, and San Miguel, each having his own spiel to shout: Bawang! Ahos! Mura Lang! Tag Diyes lang!
For that, they are teased by other children in Manaklay, where they live. They smell like onions, they are often told.
Jefferson Bano, peer counselor of Kabataan Protektahan Bigyan ng Magandang Kinabukasan (KPBMK) of Dream Village in Panacan, recalls how he worked as cleaner of used rhum bottles for a local businessman.
The water in the tubs where the dirty bottles are dumped in are not replaced for months, he said, and they scrounge through the dark depths of these waters for the rhum bottles whose labels they will be scraping off.
“Dili nimo makit-an unsay naa sa ilawom (You cannot see what lies beneath),” he said, that’s why many of them would be sliced by broken bottles. All the splashing that happens also make them swallow some of the dirty water. The business owner, he said, would scold anyone who would replace the dirty water.
“Usik daw (It’s a lot of waste),” he said.
The definition of former Labor Secretary Secretary Rosalinda Dimapilis Baldoz gives more substance to whom the child laborers are outside formal employment. They are those involved in farm work, deep-sea fishing, pyrotechnics production, stevedoring, vending, rubber budding, banana bagging, cargo loading, sugarcane farming, scavenging, waitressing/waitering, and pedicab driving.
In cargo loading, stevedoring, deep sea fishing, pedicab driving, and vending alone, we are all aware that these children abound. But ask barangay officials and local labor officials about them and the answer will most likely be that there are no child laborers in the city.
In their bid to put a face on child labor and bring some programs their way, Kaugmaon has partnered with four barangays to identify and list down these children.
Their one-month work has so far only scratched the surface but has shown enough data to prove that indeed, child labor still exists in the city.
The initial result of the study was released in a media forum last October 16 at the Grand Men Seng Hotel with two community officials helping in the presentation.
Ilang, where only nine of 20 puroks submitted data, of which three of the nine puroks reported that they have no children engaged in work in their area, it showed that: there are 42 boys and 16 girls who are working, of which 40 are in school and 18 are out of school. Their ages range from 9-17 years old.
Their type of work includes hauling and carting fertilizers at Tefasco Wharf, fishing, laborers in the market and fish landing, vendors of kakanins and dried fish.
In barangay Panacan, only 20 of 53 puroks submitted their reports of which nine puroks said they have no child labor issues. From the 11 who have listed the children, 48 boys and 21 girls were identified to be working aged between 7-17 and 32 of whom are out of school.
Their types of work are: garbage collecting/scavenging, washing tubs and pails in the market, hauling water, washing vehicles, and selling pan de sal.
In barangay Callawa were only 12 of 16 puroks submitted their reports and one of the 12 saying there is no child labor recorded in their area, 40 girls and 72 boys are actually working of which 83 are in school and 29 are out of school. Like the other barangays, their ages range from 7-17, but their work are more agricultural because of the nature of Callawa.
Their work includes "pangraha" or firewood gathering, peeling reject bananas to be dried and sold as feeds ingredients, farm work that includes cutting grasses, harvesting, and unhusking coconuts, selling of vegetables and scraps, and construction work.
Of the 26 puroks in barangay Tibungco, only 10 submitted their reports of which one said the purok recorded no child labor. From the data gathered, there are 60 boys and 39 girls aged 7-17 who are into child labor, of which 71 still go to school while 31 are out of school. Their work includes selling 'kakanins', scavenging, buy and sell of scraps, vending pan de sal, and construction work.
Juanita Nerosa, purok leader and barangay council for the protection of children member, admits that children who exert extra effort to earn their keep are in the indigents’ group and thus need social welfare assistance.
Thus, for as long as these children are not identified and accounted for, it will mean they will remain unassisted, neglected.
Nerosa recalled the initial positive response when their council urged them to record how many children in their puroks are actually involved in child labor. But when child labor was defined as those including the children selling in the markets, interest dwindled, apparently because one purok is just as guilty as the next; with children earning their keep and for their families teeming all around them.
“Lisod kung ang barangay officials ang molingod nga naa sila diha (It will be difficult if the barangay officials will be the ones denying child labor exists),” said Nelda Sabijon, barangay kagawad of Callawa.
Florie May B. Tacang, executive director of Kaugmaon said, that while they strive to reach out to as many child laborers in the area as they can, their limited resources also limits their scope.
They have 500 children under their wings and getting some services from them, but this is but a small chunk of the total child labor populace in the northern parts of the city.
“We also organize parents dahil daku kaayo ang role sa ginikanan sa mga bata sa hazardous work (the parents’ play a key role for children engaged in hazardous work),” Tacang said.
But, they have to hurdle three major challenges, which they call the 3Ks:
Kawad-on or Poverty, which forces children to find means to put food on the table.
Kultura or Culture, where child labor is accepted and children who exert brawn beyond their years to earn some for the family are regarded as good children, and;
Kahuyangan or Weakness in implanting child labor laws as well as delivering programs and services for child labor.
It is the invisibility by which these children operate that deprives them of the programs for development that should have been given them and in turn feeds their invisibility from policies and resource allocation. It’s a cycle that has trapped today’s children as the children of the past have and so will the children of the future for as long as their existence are denied.
An exhibit of photos taken by child laborers by those in child labor themselves will be staged at the Sangguniang Panlungsod lobby from Monday to Friday, October 21-25, as part of the Children’s Month celebration.