ABOUT 7,000 children were found by the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) to be working as laborers in Northern Mindanao Region in 2014.

Children were hired for agricultural work in 30 barangays in the region, the DOLE regional office said.

Among the provinces in the Northern Mindanao, Bukidnon topped the list with 3,672 child laborers, followed by Misamis Oriental (2,047), Lanao Norte (1,007), and Misamis Occidental (110).

The department blamed poverty for the persistence of child labor in the country.

"The world is about survival, after all. We need to eat, we need to provide ourselves the basic needs, so these reasons perhaps compel the child to work," said Criste Perfecto, DOLE regional planning officer.

Children in the region are more inclined to be hired for agricultural work “especially since Bukidnon is a large agricultural land,” Perfecto said.

"This kind of work is prohibited because this endangers their (children) lives and even their health, it also affects their education since agricultural work starts early in the morning and before sundown," she added.

Perfecto said that children ages 15 and 18 below are the most vulnerable to child labor since “diri na edad makatabang naman gyud ang bata.”

She said 15-year-olds are employable so long as the work is not hazardous, the child should be attending school, and should not work between 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.

After breakfast, Edwin Jay together with his friends (who are also minors), would wait for the truck that picks them up and transport them to the sugar cane plantation in Bukidnon.

Jay was the youngest child worker at the plantation. He cut sugarcane as early as 7 a.m. from Monday to Saturday.

For every 16 pieces of cane he cut, he is paid P2. The cut sugar canes are piled into the truck ready for transport.

“Kana among trabaho matag adlaw, unya gutom na kaayo nga kapuy pa gyud,” he told Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro in an interview last April 30.

The work usually ends at 3 p.m. and the same truck would take them back home.

Jay would walk to their house. “Sa balay, magpahuway na dayun, sakit dayun kaayo diri (pointing at his shoulders),” he said.

“Ang tubo, asukal nga pait,” he added.

He said that at the plantation, about 30 children work with the adults as tapaseros or cutters, earning from P100 to P200 at day.

Like many tapaseros, Jay was barely 10 when he started working. He will be turning 12 this July. For almost a year, he had been cutting sugarcane and loaded them onto trucks.

As June 12 marks the commemoration of World Day against Child Labor, DOLE has prepared programs to highlight the fight against child labor in the region.

It will provide livelihood assistance for parents to stop them from sending their off to work.

There is also a walk for a cause event the proceeds of which will be used to fund scholarships and buy school supplies for children in need.

A photo contest for employees focuses on child labor in the region, and a mural contest is open to child laborers. (With Mark Vincent Vergara/LA Corrales)