WHEN vehicles slow down as they exit Bogo City, Cebu, Mina (not her real name), 14, leaps into the street, waving budbud kabog (millet and coconut milk rolls) before car windows, the few seconds before the cars roll into Tabogon town the only time she has to close a sale.

For 10 hours starting at 6 a.m., the high school student from Borbon, two towns south, shrugs off dust, heat and the threat of getting hit by errant vehicles to make her weekends on the street count.

The third of seven children works because her father has been jobless since 2013 when he lost his job as a helper at a soft drink firm.

To get an edge over their competitors in Borbon, Mina and her mother walk some 10 kilometers up to Bogo to get the first crack at buyers driving down from the north.

Mina is one of the more than two million child laborers in the Philippines.

Working children

Eleven percent of children in the Philippines work, according to the final results of the 2011 Survey on Children by the National Statistics Office (NSO).

Counted as working were children who had worked in the week before the survey.

The bulk or 53 percent of the 3.31 million working children were 15-17 years old; 38 percent were 10-14 years old, while nine percent were five to nine years old. Sixty-three percent were male, the survey supported by the International Labor Organization (ILO) showed.

Children are allowed to work.

Republic Act (RA) 9231, passed in 2003 to amend RA 7610, the “Special Protection of Children against Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act,” says even children below 15 years old may work, so long as the child “works directly under the sole responsibility of his/her parents or legal guardian and where only members of his/her family are employed.”

RA 9231, which provides for the elimination of the worst forms of child labor and stronger protection for the working child, further says the child may work if his work does not endanger his life, safety, health and morals, or impair his normal development; and if his parent or legal guardian provides him with the prescribed primary and/or secondary education.

Children below 15 years old may work only up to four hours a day and 20 hours a week. They cannot work at night, or from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. the next day. Those 15-17 years old may work only up to eight hours a day and 40 hours a week. They cannot work from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. the next day.

So child work is allowed. What is not allowed is child labor.

Child labor is any work performed by a child that subjects him to exploitation or is harmful to his health and safety or physical, mental or psychosocial development.

Of the country’s 3.31 million working children, more than 63 percent, or 2.09 million, were engaged in child labor.

Child labor covers work deemed hazardous for children, listed by Dole’s Department Order (DO) 4, Series of 1999 as: a) work that exposes children to physical, psychological or sexual abuse; b) work underground, underwater, at dangerous heights or in confined places; c) work with dangerous tools and equipment, or involving the manual handling or transport of heavy loads; d) work in unhealthy environments that expose children to hazardous processes, temperatures, noise levels, vibrations; to toxic, corrosive, poisonous, noxious and combustible substances, harmful biological agents or other dangerous chemicals; and e) work under particularly difficult conditions like work for long hours or at night, or work where the child is unreasonably confined to the employer’s premises.

Of the 274,000 working children in Central Visayas, 156,000 were child laborers, the sixth highest number of child laborers among the country’s 17 regions. (See box.)

(For this report, Central Visayas shall refer to Cebu, Bohol, Negros Oriental and Siquijor. On May 29, Executive Order 183 creating the Negros Island Region removed Negros Oriental from Central Visayas.)

Who are they?

But while the NSO survey showed that child labor exists, the true scale of the problem remains unclear, said the Department of Labor and Employment (Dole) 7.

“It’s difficult to get a vivid picture due to the invisibility of some child laborers, especially those under commercial sexual exploitation,” said Nancy Abad, chief of Dole 7’s Technical Support and Services Division for Employment and Workers Welfare.

As for those in farms, she said: “We may see three children. But when we approach, mawagtang man (they disappear). In the mountains, they have no birth certificate. Tan-awon ra kuno ang ngipon. Ang-ang man og magdala mi og dentista (They say we should just check their teeth to tell their age. Don’t tell me we have to bring a dentist).”

The Dole is supposed to have a master list of child laborers in the country.

In its 2011 accomplishment report on its Child Labor Prevention and Elimination Program (CLPEP), the Dole said it had issued memoranda to its regional directors to produce a master list of child laborers and their families.

But Remedios Densing, Dole 7’s regional focal person for CLPEP, said the Dole started making a profile of vulnerable workers in the region, including children, only in March 2014.

Profiled among the children were those who worked in farms, were involved in pyrotechnics, and those who were 14 years old and below, she told Sun.Star Cebu.

“Those 15-17 years old were also included if their job was hazardous, like if they were involved in jobs in construction, sugar plantations, paaling (a type of commercial deep-sea fishing), mining, prostitution and pornography,” she said. The results of the profiling are still being collated.

Asked how then the Dole 7 chose the areas to focus its 2012 Child Labor-Free Barangay (CLFB) Campaign on, she said: “The NSO 2011 survey results are what we are using, and these were given to Dole 7 in October 2013 already. We have no data (broken down) per province.”

Chosen villages

Dole launched its CLFB campaign to support the vision of the Philippine Program against Child Labor of a Child Labor-Free Philippines.

Under the campaign, it identified 89 barangays to make child labor-free, five of them farming areas in Central Visayas: Adlaon (Cebu City) and Cayang (Bogo City) in Cebu; and Canggohob and Manlingay (Mabinay town), and Azagra (Tanjay City) in Negros Oriental.

In Cebu, Densing said, Dole 7’s campaign started in 2012 in Adlaon on the suggestion of The Share a Child Movement Inc. (Tsacmi), its most active non-government organization (NGO) partner, which had already been helping poor families there by sending children to school.

Today, the Dole’s priority areas in Cebu for its CLFB campaign are Apas, Adlaon, Labangon, Luz, Mambaling, San Roque, Buhisan and Budlaan in Cebu City; Cayang and Anonang Norte in Bogo City; and Maribago in Lapu-Lapu City.

For its profiling of child laborers, she said Dole 7 prioritized the barangays in its CLFB campaign.

This means the profile won’t give a complete picture of child labor in Cebu because southern Cebu, for instance, is not a Dole priority, but there are also farms there where children may be working.

Work permit

Another way Dole could get an idea where the potential child laborers are would be through the work permits RA 9231 mandates it to issue working children under 15 years old.

The permit, valid up to a year, is issued if the employer can show that it will protect the child’s health, safety and morals, and prevent his exploitation and discrimination in remuneration and work duration, among other things.

“We give child permits to entertainers in commercials hired by ABS-CBN and performers from Negros, for instance, who will perform in Manila, models, talents, singers, dancers,” said Densing. “But from farms (or any other sector), no one has applied.”

This may be a national trend.

The 2011 Survey on Children shows that of the 1.54 million working children below 15 years old in the country, 875,000 were involved in child labor, leaving 674,000 children for whom employers could have legitimately secured a work permit.

But in 2011, the Dole issued only 4,076 work permits to children below 15 years old.

“Of this number, 3,938 permits or 97 percent were issued by Dole-National Capital Region,” the Dole’s 2011 accomplishment report said.

This opens thousands of children to exploitation, as in theory, the permit protects children because the Dole may suspend or cancel it if the employer violates its terms.

Child employees

Under The Child and Youth Welfare Code of 1974, employers are also supposed to submit to the Dole a report of all the children they employ. But Densing revealed that only the companies that joined the Special Program for the Employment of Students (Spes) submit.

Mandated under RA 7323, Spes helps poor but deserving students earn money for tuition by encouraging local government units (LGU) and private firms to hire them in the summer and Christmas break, with the Dole taking care of 40 percent of the youths’ salaries.

Today, the Spes is a year-round program for those 15-25 years old who have not finished a baccalaureate (at least four-year course), she said.

“In Cebu City, Mayor Mike Rama and the Council pledged P5 million for salaries for Spes for 2015,” Densing said.

Help

For the child laborers that have come to light, the Dole 7 recognizes that poverty in their families largely compelled them to work, so it gives them and their parents livelihood grants.

“The grant is based on the proposals of the villagers. This is not a loan but given free,” Densing said.

From 2010 to 2014, the grants totaled P3.98 million, with P3.39 million going to Cebu and the rest to Negros Oriental.

In Cebu, there were 1,249 beneficiaries in projects with NGO partners.

The projects included school bag production (with Euphrasia Development Center as partner); detergent soap, dishwashing liquid, salabat production (Brgy. Pajac LGU, Mandaue); T-shirt printing and rag making (Brgy. Mambaling LGU); quail raising and quail egg retailing (Tsacmi); livestock and goat raising (Nagkahiusang Mag-uuma sa Taba-ao); mobile vending, hog fattening and feeds retailing (Cayang Multi-Purpose Cooperative), and fish pen making (Bogo-Medellin Sugarcane Planters Association Inc.).

The projects with Bidlisiw Foundation (advocacy shirt printing, baked goods and catering services) had children in conflict with the law, like snatchers and pickpockets, as well as sexually abused and commercial sex workers as beneficiaries, she said.

Campaign

In 2012, the Philippines launched the “Batang Malaya: Child Labor Free Philippines” campaign to renew its action toward meeting the global deadline of ending “the worst forms of child labor” by 2016.

ILO Convention 182 on the elimination of the worst forms of child labor (WFCL) covering everyone under 18 defined the WFCL as (a) all forms of slavery or practices similar to slavery, such as the sale and trafficking of children, debt bondage and serfdom and forced or compulsory labor, including forced or compulsory recruitment of children for use in armed conflict; (b) the use, procuring or offering of a child for prostitution, for the production of pornography or for pornographic performances; (c) the use, procuring or offering of a child for illicit activities, in particular for the production and trafficking of drugs as defined in the relevant international treaties; and (d) work which, by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out, is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children.

RA 9231 adopted this definition of WFCL, adding the DO 4, Series of 1999 list to it.

The Philippines aims to reduce by 75 percent the incidence of the WFCL in the country by 2016, using the 2011 NSO figures as the baseline for the reduction, Densing said.

The country won’t be able to tell then if it has met this target because the baseline figure is flawed.

While the 2011 Survey on Children captured data on children in hazardous labor, it did not capture the other WFCL like slavery, including trafficking and recruitment for armed conflict; pornography and prostitution; and illicit activities like drug trafficking.

What progress?

Gauging the country’s progress in reducing child labor is also a problem.

While a 2001 survey, also supported by the ILO and the US Department of Labor, was conducted, the 2011 survey used terms under RA 9231 on the WFCL enacted in 2003 as well as international statistical standards adopted in 2008.

“Thus, the results between the two surveys are non-comparable from a statistical perspective,” said Cesar Giovanni Soledad, project manager of the ILO-International Program on the Elimination of Child Labor (Ipec) “Towards a Child Labor Free Philippines.”

He added: “The final number of child laborers is 2.1 million children as per the 2011 Survey on Children. This was four years ago.  There is no scheduled survey this year, so we cannot really say if we are on track or not or how many children have been withdrawn all in all.

“This is why it is important for the country to have the ability to regularly determine the number of child laborers and not just wait for ILO-commissioned studies by the NSO, which do not happen often. There are discussions to integrate this ability in the production of the Labor Force Surveys.”

The Philippine Statistics Authority conducts the Labor Force Survey four times a year.