PARENTS are against it. College teachers are losing sleep over it.

And now the K to 12 program mandated by the Enhanced Basic Education Act of 2013 is igniting tensions yet again.

The K to 12 curriculum makes kindergarten mandatory and adds two years of high school, beginning next year, to the current 10-year basic education program. This would align the Philippines with the global standard of 12 years of basic education.

But it has now created a gap between the minimum age for work in the Philippines, which is 15, and the age of completion of compulsory schooling which, with the K to 12 law, will now be 18 years old.

“There is a gap because compulsory schooling up to 18 takes away the permissibility of work from 15 to 17 years old,” said Cesar Giovanni Soledad, project manager of the International Labor Organization-International Program on the Elimination of Child Labor (ILO-Ipec) “Towards a Child Labor Free Philippines.”

“ILO Convention 138 on Minimum Age for Work clearly states that the minimum age for work should not be below the age of completion of compulsory education. What we have is a contradiction now between the country’s labor policy and education policy. The solution here is for harmonization to happen. The Dole (Department of Labor and Employment) has already brought the matter to the attention of the Department of Justice, and an opinion on this is expected soon,” he told Sun.Star Cebu.

This is just one of the gaps that need to be addressed for the Philippines to meet its goal of reducing the worst forms of child labor (WFCL) by 75 percent by 2016, using the results of the 2011 Survey on Children by the National Statistics Office as baseline figures.

The WFCL include work in sugarcane plantations, child domestic work, child prostitution, deep-sea fishing, fireworks production, and mining and quarrying.

Clear aims

On Dec. 31, 2014, the ILO, through the Ipec, began the Country Level Engagement and Assistance to Reduce Child Labor (Clear). Funded by the United States Department of Labor, the program aims to help the Philippine government improve its ability to address child labor by improving legislation, programs and their implementation, said Soledad.

Among the things it will do is work to resolve this gap between the minimum age for work and the age of completion of compulsory schooling. 

Clear also eyes interventions to improve the ability of the labor inspection system to detect and address child labor cases, and to increase the conviction rate in child labor cases through the development of an integrated case management protocol to improve case tracking. It will also work with the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) program of government and the education system to better address child labor.

Soledad said Clear would come up with “a roadmap in the education system to enable it to address child labor within its ranks, as 65 percent of cases of working children are in school.”

Clear would also “engage the process of creating a social protection floor (SPF)” that could help address child labor, he said.

The ILO defines SPF as a nationally defined set of basic social security guarantees that should ensure that all in need have access to essential health care and basic income security.

Hard target

At the rate things are going, however, the Philippines won’t be able to reduce the WFCL by 75 percent by 2016, said an official of the non-government organization implementing a five-year project to reduce child labor in sugarcane farms in Bogo City and Medellin town, Cebu.

“While there has been progress, the reality from our perspective is that the Philippines will not meet this goal,” said Dorothy Mae Albiento, advocacy and communications specialist of the ABK3 Leap project of World Vision Development Foundation Inc.

ABK3 Leap stands for “Pag-Aaral ng Bata para sa Kinabukasan: Livelihoods, Education, Advocacy and Protection to Reduce Child Labor in Sugarcane Areas.”

“Much more resources are needed to alleviate poverty, create better awareness of hazards to children, improve access and quality to education, enforce policies and move more of the informal sector to the formal sector. Even the P9 billion convergence program from the 2013-2016 H.E.L.P. M.E. of Dole to reduce hazardous child labor for 893,000 children has not been funded because they have been required to profile each child first before funding would be allocated,” she said.

H.E.L.P. M.E., which stands for Health services and medical assistance; Education and training; Livelihood opportunities to families of child laborers; Prevention, protection and prosecution; Monitoring; and Evaluation, aims to remove 893,000 children in 15,568 barangays from hazardous child labor by 2016 by bringing government’s anti-child labor programs and services to the barangay level.

No soldiers

Funding problems aside, the fight against child labor is also stymied by officials closest to the child laborers refusing to take up the fight.

Remedios Densing, Dole 7 regional focal person for the Child Labor Prevention and Elimination Program (CLPEP), related that when the agency approached Barangay Duljo-Fatima, Cebu City in 2013 to include it among the barangays under its Child Labor-Free Barangay Campaign launched in 2012, it was spurned.

Duljo-Fatima was identified as a priority for Dole’s livelihood assistance after the inter-agency Regional Child Labor Committee noted that it had many members included in the government’s CCT program for the poorest of the poor. The Dole recognizes that child labor is largely driven by poverty in the children’s families that compels the children to work.

“But the Barangay Council was not convened. Even if we talked to the barangay captain, they were not supportive,” Densing said. “It was election time. They were busy, so they would not commit.”

The barangay would have had to commit to pass a barangay resolution that it would support the CLPEP. “Plus, it would be better if they had an ordinance adopting the Children’s Code of Cebu City,” she said.

No incentive

The World Report on Child Labor 2015 reveals another obstacle in the fight against child labor.

“Poor future labor market prospects can reduce today’s incentive of households to invest in children’s education,” it said.

“In countries where there are few opportunities for decent work requiring advanced skills, and where returns to education are therefore limited, parents have less reasons to delay their children’s entry into work and to incur the costs associated with their children’s schooling,” it said.

Decent work is work that delivers a fair income, security in the workplace and social protection for families, the ILO said.By this definition, the prospects for decent work in the Philippines don’t look good.

The Philippine Statistics Authority reported that the proportion of the employed population living below the national poverty threshold worsened from 20.5 percent in 2003 to 21.9 percent in 2012.

Robbing children

In 1959, the United Nations’ Declaration of the Rights of the Child said the child should not be permitted to engage in any occupation that would prejudice his health or education, or interfere with his physical, mental or moral development.

Child labor violates this right.

Child work that takes children out of school deprives them of the opportunity to learn competencies and skills needed to secure decent work in the future.

More unjust is that those who rob children of their future often get away scot-free, while it is the children who are imprisoned for life in the poverty to which their premature involvement in work led them.