MINORS working in the mines in Davao Region are mostly aged 15-17, the Department of Education (DepEd) said Monday.

DepEd Regional Director Susana Teresita Estigoy said although they have observed a decrease in the number of children working in the mining areas, specifically in Compostela Valley, there is still a proliferation among adolescents.

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"When we say a child we mean itong mga bata until they are 18 years old so these 15 years old to 17 years old, we still consider them as too young to engage into work when they should be in school," Estigoy said in an interview on Monday after Kapihan sa SM media forum.

"We have observed na ang mga bata, yung mga 15 below or 13 below, kung yung mga parents nila are earning enough for the family hindi na sila pinapatulong sa magta-trabaho sa mga mina. This is partly because of the strong advocacy against child labor which is in cooperation with the private sector and other agencies such as the Department of Labor and Employment (Dole)," Estigoy said.

Estigoy said poverty remains the main reason for families in low income areas to allow their children to engage into child labor.

"Ang problema kasi is pag nagkakaedad na yung mga bata, it's either sila mismo ay na-eengangyo na magtrabaho because of the money they earn or they are seen as potential members of the work force kasi may lakas na yung mga katawan nila," Estigoy said.

A stable family income, however, plays a vital role in keeping children in school, since it is financial problems that drive children to find work.

"Our combat against child labor is done two-folds. One is to make sure our children and families know the importance of having the children go to school and two to go into the communities and to arrange livelihood programs and other form of assistance through schooling are given. We do this in partnership with other sectors because we surely cannot do it alone," she said.

Estigoy said they have observed a "transformation" in areas in the region where they have focused on child labor prone areas in their partnership with ABK2 Initiative and other national agencies assigned to combat child labor. ABK2 Initiative strives to raise awareness on child labor in a bid to put a stop to this, especially on hazardous jobs, like those in the mines.

"Tumaas na ang awareness ng communities at sila mismo nila na ang mga bata ay talagang dapat pumunta ng eskwela," she said.

ABK2 project director Daphne Culanag said their organization have been focussing in seven areas in the region, also in cooperation with other private agencies.

"In Davao del Sur, we cooperate with the Child Fund in Digos and Hagonoy; and with Educational Research & Developmnt Foundation we are also in Matanao and Magsaysay. These are the areas where there are a lot of banana plantations. In Compostella Valley, we work with Child Fund in Nabunturan and in Pantukan together with World Vision. Dito ang mga mining areas. And we also concentrate on Davao City with the World Vision and Child Fund because dito mostly ang mga minor who become house help and being a center area for development dito usually nata-traffic and mga minors who unfortunately become commercial sex workers," Culanag said.

Culanag said, through their cooperation with the government and other agencies, they are currently catering to 3,000 students and adults in terms of educational assistance through school supplies and the arrangement of livelihood programs.

Dole 11 focal person on child labor Marlito Ayala said the regional agency has allotted P600,000 from this year's budget solely for their Starter Kits Pangkabuhayan program. Parents whose children are engaged in child labor are encouraged to join the said program wherein they are requested to form a group of 25, not necessarily a cooperative.

"Our work with ABK2, DSWD (Department of Social Welfare and Development) and Deped is to identify the areas which has child labor and sila yung nag-iidentify kung anong kabuhayan ang gusto ng parents sa area na iyon then kami naman yung nagpo-provide ng trainings and we give financial assistance kung talagang natuto na sila at mapapakinabangan na nila ang natutunan nila. We give as much as P25,000 to each person through this program," Ayala said.

Said representatives were present during the forum to promote the 2nd Gawad ACLAT (Anti-Child Labor Award for Teachers) Awards headed by ABK2 and its partner agencies.

This a special recognition honoring teachers, adults para-teachers and little teachers who have made remarkable contributions in preventing and eliminating child labor through education.

Nominations are now accepted. End date of awards is June 5, 2011. (JCZ)