By ALDWIN QUITASOL
“Why do we have to pay the price of poverty. We didn’t create poverty, adults did.” — Sultana, a 12-year old garment factory worker from Bangladesh, 14 Feb.1998.
It is in the news, child workers in the Philippines rose to more than 5 million. Three million of them are employed in the most hazardous form of jobs. Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz said that according to a recent survey of the National Statistics Office (NSO), there are 5.49 million working children aged five to 17 years. More than 55.1 percent or 3.02 million were counted as child laborers in agriculture and 2.99 million are exposed to hazardous jobs like mining, quarry and construction among others as of October last year. According to NSO, majority of Filipino children workers are employed in the agriculture sector.
The International Labour Organization – International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (ILO-IPEC) defines child labour as “work situations where children are compelled to work on a regular basis to earn a living for themselves and their families, and as a result are disadvantaged educationally and socially; where children work in conditions that are exploitative and damaging to their health and to their physical and mental development; where children are separated from their families, often deprived of educational and training opportunities; where children are forced to lead prematurely adult lives.” According to ILO in 2010, there are 215 million children worldwide trapped in child labor.
Carmelita N. Ericta, NSO administrator, seems to have a little knowledge on the realities of Filipino child labor. According to her, about 90% of Filipino children ranging from five to nine are in schools.
In the City of Baguio, particularly in the market, children at the age of five are already in the alleys and side walks selling plastic bags. Some of the older children are working as “kargadors” or baggage boys and girls carrying load twice their body weight. Some of them are selling vegetables, fruits among others while playing hide-and-seek and sprint races with the members of the anti-peddling personnel of the city government.
One painful reality is that many of the young children are falling victims of the flesh trade. At their young age, they are forced to sell their bodies to maniacs just to feed themselves and their families.
It is surprising that the labor secretary wonders why the number of child laborers increased. She is claiming that anti-child labor programs have been implemented since 1995 and they did not stop from implementing them.
Passed in the 12th congress of the House of Representatives in 2003 is Republic Act 9231 (the act providing for the elimination of the worst forms of child labor and affording stronger protection for the working child), amending for this purpose Republic Act No. 7610, as amended, otherwise known as the “special protection of children against child abuse, exploitation and discrimination act.”
There are many laws passed by Philippine legislators just like those in other countries to protect the children. The question may be in the implementing agencies, people and the sincerity of the people especially those who made them.
The question is did they look into the root causes why there are millions of children forced into child labor? Did they realize why there are many children in the streets selling whatever they can sell just to eat because their parents cannot afford to send them to school? Did they know that many children are afraid to go to school especially in the provinces as their schools are being used as military camps? Did they hear stories of the children who are sleeping on the sidewalks and many are offered money by maniacs in exchange for sexual favors? Can the child really be protected in a society where human dignity is disregarded as profits and power rule the system?
Child labor is a big problem that needs a holistic approach. Only looking at the population growth is lame. Analyzing the data for purposes of more intelligent or concrete solutions is needed not only by the parents, teachers and concerned agencies and responsible individuals but by the heads of the nation instead of ridiculously lending out $1 billion to the powerful IMF. The Filipino people are seeking an end to child labor and other forms of slavery and that amount offered to the IMF could go a long way to save and keep them safe from slavery.
“ ‘Cause when the children sing, then the new world begins…” (Let the children cry by White Lion). #