IT IS NOT a secret that every parent wants their children to live a carefree life, a life well provided with necessary things like clothes education and food, but to some, especially in poor areas where the idealist ideas of family are taboo, some parents are not that fortunate and a reversed society exists, children work for their families instead, sacrificing their preparation for the future.
An example of this is a Muslim Village in Barangay Ilang Davao City, the place where houses are made of light materials, the kind that the Big Bad Wolf in the children’s story Three Little Pigs would have blown in a nick of time.
But some children in the area do not know about Big Bad Wolf, as they are out there in the sea, fishing, a task they do to feed the hungry stomach of their families.
Alvin, 14, said that he goes to the sea every day to help feed their family.
Alvin is the eldest son of seven. His old mother gave birth to their youngest five months ago, despite the fact that she can barely feed the six others without Alvin’s help.
Alvin’s parents sell accessories during fiestas anywhere in the city to earn a little bit more.
“Usahay magkasamad-samad ko tungod sa pukot (Sometimes I get scratches because of the net),” he said.
Though excitement about catching fish is evident in his voice as he methodically explained how they can get as much as P300 or more if they have a good catch, Alvin is bound to one single reality - he has not been to school all his life yet.
He would want to, if given the opportunity.
His relative, Edmund, who is small for a 15-year-old boy, does not dream of going to school. He simply dreams of having his own boat.
Edmund said that he would rather stay fishing and that he will regret the bigger catch he will have and other’s share if he is not around than going to school.
“Masuya man gud ko sa ila kung daghan sila'g kuha (I envy others whenever I see them get a big catch),” Edmund said, saying that catching fishes includes timing.
He said that strong winds are among the very challenges they face when they are out in the sea.
These two teenagers are not alone in the Muslim Village of Barangay Ilang, Davao City, where many children are not in school because they need to contribute to the family's upkeep.
Alvin’s mom said they can already buy rice with her son’s catch. When not out in the sea, Alvin catches reef fishes from areas close to home.
His two younger brothers Francis, 11 and Luigi, 9, gather plastic bottles and materials that are brought in from the sea whenever it rains hard. From these, they can earn up to P50.
In the Philippines, child labor is considered unlawful if a child below 15 years old works, except for some household chores or school work.
In the past years, much information has already been provided about this topic and most of the barangays post: “This barangay is a child labor free barangay”.
Many child labor cases, however, are just swept under the rug, unseen, unheard.
The reduced number
Florie Mae Tacang of the Kaugmaon for Childrens Rights and Social Development Foundation said that while child labor still exists, it's not as bad as before. Estimates is at three million down from five million several years ago.
“The three million, is still a huge number because there are still those who are not documented,” Tacang said.
The greatest challenge in tracking child labor is the non-availability of unified data on how many there really are all over the city.
Tacang said that in Davao City, they recorded 500 children under their organization but these include those 15 years old and above whom they still have to keep an eye on because they are still at risk of returning to being child laborers.
“Kay kung dili namo sila iapil most likely mubalik lang gihapon sila didto (If we will not include them in our monitoring, they will return to their job),” she said.
The Davao City Social Services and Development Office in 2015 recorded a total 26 child labor cases reported and served in their office.
Kaugmaon attended to 21 males and 14 females, while the Integrated Gender and Development Division of the Davao City Mayor’s Office served one male child laborer.
Tacang said that child labor is defined by any activity that will deprive the children from education and will deprive him/her to enjoy their childhood.
Advocacy education for parents
There are many reasons why child labor persists, Tacang said, especially because it is accepted among poor families that children work for a living.
“We conduct advocacy education for the parents about child labor, because child labor has become acceptable especially in the poor families wherein a child laborer who helps the family is considered as good children,” Tacang said.
This can be affirmed in an interview with a Parent Leader named Aida, in a Muslim village in Barangay Ilang.
“Natural lang man jud na sa bata ang magtabang sa mga ginikanan (It is only natural for the children to help their parents),”she said.
Aida said that other children in their village work even on weekends to help their parents.
Tacang said that one reason for the reinforcement came from the fact, that doing honest labor is better than stealing.
But, she said, propagating this belief such that children are deprived of their basic rights can be considered as child labor. This is why in their organization they are strengthening their advocacy that every child must go to school despite his work.
“The future is bleak for a child laborer if he/she who was not able to go to school for as they reach adulthood at the age of 18 above, they will find it hard to find a permanent and decent job,” Tacang said.
She said that in line with these they work closely with the Department of Labor and Employment (Dole), which partners with non-government organizations and barangays to extend their services among the barangays.
“We continue to advocate in the areas for the barangay officials so that they will also recognize the problem and provide programs for child labor,” she said.
She said that the initiative of the Dole to declare child labor free barangays is a good move as those recognized barangays are obliged to make programs with and for the children in the area.
Kaugmaon works in Barangay Callawa, Ilang, Panacan and Tibungco in this city.
She said that Callawa is already declared as child labor free barangay because of the barangay officials’ immediate action with regards child labor issues.
She said that Barangay Callawa residents have already received programs from Dole.
“For other barangays, it is still a challenge to work with them, hopefully this year these barangays will be awarded as well so that they can also give programs," she said.
The role of Dole
Regional Anti-Child Labor Focal Melanie Jadulang said in Davao Region they have already declared three child labor free barangays based from the standards provided by the central office.
An interagency team to combat child labor named as Help Me Convergence program was also created together with Department of Social Welfare and Development, Department of Education, Department of Justice, Philippine National Police and Tesda.
The interagency allows each agency to collaborate for rescue of children involved in child labor.
Apart from that the most concrete programs they have are the Project Angel Tree where for a period of time an “angel” or volunteer gives and provides temporary needs of child laborer so that they will feel special and loved for a while.
Another is the Sagip Batang Mangagawa, a quick response mechanism that helps rescue children who were reported working in the establishments after significant time for surveillance and these includes the participation of Help Me Convergence.
But the most significant of the most important of all is the Kasama, or Kabuhayan para sa Magulang ng Batang Mangagawa.
Jadulang said that the program started on 2011 has a total of 398 beneficiaries in the year 2015, in five organized parent organizations in the region.
This number has significantly grown with only 42 in the year of the start of the program, cause even parents of potential child laborers, or children who are at risk for child labor are included.
Jadulang said that the barangay has a huge role in strengthening and maintaining parent associations in the area of their concern.
For the year 2015, the agency distributed a total of 1.7 Million financial assistance to the families of child laborers.
Jadulang said that each beneficiary has a maximum of P10,000 for livelihood project and it is approved by submission of the proposal first of the project, given that these are not distributed in cash but in the form of facilities and other forms of capital.
Jadulang added that the 398 active beneficiaries are those who had already been given assistance and are now being monitored by their different point persons in the area.
Such monitoring is needed as it is stipulated in the agreement that they will get continued support for as long as their children will not work as child laborers.
She said that majority of their identified child laborers were located in the agricultural sector and in plantations, and insofar it is the same areas where their programs like Kasama were implemented.
“Actually the Dole has five field offices and usually in our target focus are the areas where sugarcane and banana plantations exist. Actually it is more on agriculture,” she added.
Jadulang said, however, that penetrating the communities with child laborers in mining areas is a huge challenge for them.
“Way back, many years passed, we have given assistance particularly in Mt Diwata and Mt. Diwalwal but it did not prosper,” she said.
This is because gold earns more than what Dole can ever offer. Aside from that the parents also of the children are not permanent residents of the area, as some only come when work is available.
She said that since the Kasama cannot be effectively applied in the area, they are conducting project Angel Tree, and they are having continuous advocacy in the barangays in the area whose officers admitted that after years of the advocacy program, they can no longer see children going inside the tunnels like before.
“Their number has lessened but they are still part of the process of panning, blasting, and lifting the materials from under the tunnel to the outside,” she said.
She added that the central office has also doing their best to recognize child labor free barangays and three of them were already named within the region.
As an agency in their effort to combat child labor, they have also named 41 establishments in the whole region from year 2013, as child labor free establishments.
Jubelag said that they make sure that before certifying these establishments, suppliers and contractor connected to them do not engage in child labor.
Indeed, there is still a long way to go to keep children out of high-risk jobs and keep them in school. And it takes the cooperation of all to do these.