CHILDREN are drawn into child labor because poverty compels them to work to contribute to the family income.

But instead of putting them ahead of others in lifetime earnings, early employment does the opposite.

The World Report on Child Labor 2015 said prior involvement in child labor is linked with lower educational attainment, which makes those who leave school early (before age 15) more likely to have to settle for unpaid family jobs, low-paying jobs or unstable work later in life. Stable work is paid work with a contract of a year or more.

World Bank figures from Brazil show early entry into the labor force reducing lifetime earnings by 13 to 20 percent, the United Nations said.

This is why a crucial part of the program to eliminate child labor involves not just giving livelihood to poor parents but also sending their children to school.

Incentives

The Department of Labor and Employment (Dole) is tasked to refer child laborers to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) for inclusion of their families in its Conditional Cash Transfer Program (CCT).

Better known as the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps), DSWD’s anti-poverty program gives cash incentives to families on the condition that they invest in their children’s health and education, and avail themselves of maternal health services.

The education grant for up to three children per family is P300 per child per month for elementary school and below, or P500 for high school. The child must attend 85 percent of the school days monthly to get the education subsidy.

The family also gets P500 a month if it avails itself of all the health center’s services and attends the monthly Family Development Sessions (FDS), where it gets lessons on responsible parenting, values formation, women’s and children’s rights, disaster preparedness, the environment, and the importance of community participation, among others, said Brigieda Tampus-Goron, provincial link of 4Ps-Cebu.

“We emphasize that children need to go to school and that it’s the parents’ responsibility to provide for them. That’s how we combat child labor,” said Goron.

The 4Ps is done in partnership with the Department of Education (DepEd) and the Department of Health, which help check the compliance of beneficiaries with the conditions of the 4Ps.

“The grant is P500/month for the health services and FDS. If you joined the FDS but didn’t avail yourself of the health services for that month, you don’t get the P500. It’s all or nothing,” said Lucille Teves, regional monitoring and evaluation officer of 4Ps.

Beneficiaries

Eligible for inclusion in the 4Ps are families whose income is below the provincial poverty threshold, who have children aged 18 or below, and who commit to meet the conditions for the cash grants. The threshold is P8,000 for a family of five.

DSWD 7 regional information officer Leah Quintana described the breadwinners in many 4Ps families as farmers and fishermen with from one to 11 children.

At the end of 2014, more than 11 million children nationwide were 4Ps beneficiaries.

In Cebu Province, the 4Ps covers 126,000 households. This means 378,000 children if there are three children per household.

In 2013, the DSWD added a condition prohibiting “hazardous child labor” for 4Ps families. But Goron said they have not removed from the program any household found to have children engaged in child labor.

“Instead, we strengthen our case management. If the child has been absent from school for two consecutive months, our staff will know who to prioritize for case management. Together with the teacher or the barangay health worker, they will go to the child’s house,” she said.

All the 53 cities and towns in Cebu have 4Ps beneficiaries. For every 800 households, there is a “link” from the DSWD 7. Cebu Province has 250 people from the DSWD 7 for the 4Ps. These include the links, social welfare assistants and technical people.

Education compliance

Goron said there is a 95-99 percent compliance rate in education in Cebu.

Earlier this year, DSWD Secretary Corazon Juliano-Soliman said the high enrollment rate of children in Pantawid areas indicated that they were not engaged in child labor.

But the 2011 Survey on Children by the National Statistics Office showed that 70 percent of children engaged in hazardous labor (children in hazardous labor accounted for 54.5 percent of all working children) were at the same time attending school.

This means enrollment does not guarantee that a child is not engaged in child labor.

“The implication of the high compliance rate is less time for child work,” Teves said.

The 4Ps started in 2009 in Cebu with children zero to 14 years old. But last year it expanded to include children up to 18 years old. With the expansion to include older children, a household won’t leave the CCT until its three child-beneficiaries graduate from high school, Goron said.

Teves said there had been an improvement in enrollment rates in Cebu Province since the rollout of the 4Ps. The enrollment rate for elementary school rose 29.88 percent from 2008 (before 4Ps) to 2012. For secondary school, it rose 6.15 percent.

Goron said the smaller increase in the secondary school enrollment rate may be due to the fact that “high school education is more expensive and the transport fare might be higher because the school might be far from the barangay,” like in the town center.

Budget

Asked if the payout for the 4Ps was sufficient to discourage child labor, Teves said: “It is small, but it is enough. Never did we hear parents say the amount was too small.”

The average grant received by households is P1,000 a month because some households have only one child.

Goron said, “Probably for the first year, the P500/month helped the parents send their kids to school. But later, it’s the FDS.”

“We want to end inter-generational poverty, so during the FDS, we stress the importance of education,” Quintana said.

The results are showing. “During the CCT payout, what they buy is notebooks and paper for their children,” Goron said.

Incentives

To further encourage parents to keep their children in school, Goron said that in every province and region, there is a yearly Search for Exemplary Children of Pantawid Pamilya recognizing children who excel in academics, community involvement and environmental care. To meet the contest’s academics requirement, the child must have never dropped out or skipped a school year. He must have met the 85 percent school attendance requirement, received good grades and be a non-repeater, and been fully immunized and dewormed twice that year.

To promote children’s welfare, the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) also has a national search for the most child-friendly barangay. Dole 7 Child Labor Prevention and Elimination Program regional focal person Remedios Densing cited the Cebu City Government for adding in its indicators of a child-friendly barangay one that has no child labor.

Worst forms

There are other projects aimed more specifically at reducing child labor.

After the Philippines ratified International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 182, the convention on the prohibition and immediate action for the elimination of the worst forms of child labor (WFCL) in 2000, the ILO, through the International Program on the Elimination of Child Labor (Ipec), implemented in 2002 a project to support the Philippine government’s then goal to reduce the WFCL by 75 percent by 2005.

Funded by the United States government, the five-year project covered the six WFCL—child domestic work, children in prostitution, deep-sea fishing, sugarcane plantations, fireworks, and mining and quarrying—in eight areas including Ilocos Region, Cagayan Valley, Calabarzon, Mimaropa, Central Visayas (Cebu, Toledo, Lapu-Lapu and Mandaue cities), and Metro Manila.

This phase of the project withdrew 19,000 children and prevented 2,500 children from engaging in exploitative labor, for a total of 21,500.

The project’s partners in Cebu—the Center for Rural Development, Stop Abuse of Minors Inc., Bidlisiw Foundation and The Share a Child Movement Inc.

(Tsacmi)—effected the withdrawal of children working in five of the WFCL (save for mining and quarrying) and the prevention of those at risk, said Cesar Giovanni Soledad, project manager of ILO-Ipec Towards a Child Labor Free Philippines.

Still working

Some 14,500 of the 21,500 helped nationwide received transitional education services or vocational training. The rest were working children 15-17 years old who were withdrawn from hazards and abuse at work, meaning they continued to work but their working conditions were just made safer.

“One of the most effective interventions by the project was the provision of alternative education,” said Soledad.

“Among child laborers who wished to study again, the program of choice was the non-formal education or the Alternative Learning System (ALS). The methods, teaching approaches and styles as well as flexibility (e.g. in meeting times/schedules and dress code) were much appreciated as ‘child-friendly’ and more appropriate to children who had stopped school for a long time and who needed to save face from other children their age who were way ahead of them in school.

Among those who had been mainstreamed into formal education, tutorials helped in improving school performance and keeping children in school.”

ALS “is community-based, usually conducted at community learning centers, barangay multi-purpose halls, libraries or at home, managed by ALS learning facilitators, such as mobile teachers, district ALS coordinators, instructional managers at an agreed schedule and venue between the learners and facilitators,” the DepEd said.

The agency implements two major ALS programs—the Basic Literacy Program and the Continuing Education Program-Accreditation and Equivalency (A&E).

Vocational

For those given vocational training, the training was tailored to meet the demands of the geographical areas.

“In the sugar industry, some children aged 15-17 years old were trained in the safe use and operation of farm equipment, usually with the participation of Tesda (Technical Education and Skills Development Authority) trainers,” Soledad said. 

In Phase 2 of its program, called “Towards a Child Labor Free Philippines, ILO-Ipec helped 9,350 more child laborers. This phase ran from 2009 to 2013 and covered only four provinces: Quezon, Masbate, Northern Samar and Bukidnon.

Mainstream

Of the children withdrawn from fireworks production in its project with ILO-Ipec in Lapu-Lapu City, Tsacmi executive director Helen Madamba said most had been “mainstreamed into our educational assistance program. Many of them already graduated from high school and vocational schools. Some earned college degrees and are gainfully employed.”

Tsacmi does not specifically target children rescued from child labor for its regular projects, which involve sending children of poor families in general to school. But Madamba said most of those it had put through school since 2005 were child laborers.

“The children we have helped include those who sold newspapers or bottled water in the street. Others were trisikad drivers, farm laborers, charcoal makers, children who climb mango trees to wrap mangoes in newspapers, children who have no choice but to be domestic house helpers, children who scavenge for recyclable materials, children who work as vendors of fruits and vegetables at their local markets,” she said.

With another partner, Winrock International, Tscami addressed child labor in Cebu City mountain barangays Adlaon, Guba and Cambinocot.

The ALS enabled the working children to take the equivalency exam so the DepEd could discern the equivalent level of their educational attainment, paving the way for their return to formal education.

“Our project with Winrock International was so successful because we were able to send them to regular school. Some of them passed the A&E so they enrolled in higher grade levels when they went back to school. Some of the children really want to help their parents so they still help out in the fields. But instead of working 12 hours a day, they just help around four hours a day,” she said.

No heavy work

In Adlaon, Cebu City’s most child-friendly barangay in 2014, Barangay Captain Elvis Narra said it was common for children to be absent from school whenever their parents had them help in the corn fields.

But when school records showed 27 students dropping out to work in farms full time, the barangay took action.

With sustained information dissemination in the sitios against giving children heavy work in farms, one can hardly see any child under 15 plowing fields today, he said.

He also credited the Sugboanong Pundok Aron Sugpoon ang Child Abuse (Supaka) group for tutoring slow learners to encourage them to persevere in their studies.

Not soon enough

Early intervention is key. And it can’t come soon enough.

Child labor, which takes children out of school, increases vulnerability to future joblessness or insecure work in hazardous conditions, this vulnerability at times exacerbated by health problems stemming from their premature involvement in work.

Tsacmi’s Madamba tells of a child in a Cebu City mountain barangay who developed a lung injury after spraying insecticide without wearing protective gear.

“Another child was spraying chemicals and wrapping mango fruits when he fell from the mango tree and was injured. Now he is physically disabled,” she said.