The increase of the number of child laborers in the Philippines is vast and rapid. It is one of the alarming concerns of the country that is on the bottom of its priorities. Children, as young as five years old, start working for survival due to intensive poverty level. When you look around, you will see them anywhere – in the streets, markets, coasts, construction sites, mine fields, plantations and even in armed conflict areas. For them, a little penny in exchange for much strength spent in working is equivalent to a stomach filled.
Child Labor is defined as any work or economic activity done by a child that allows him to be subject of exploitation and brings harm to his health, safety and risks his physical, mental and social development.
On the 2011 survey of the National Statistics Office, 3.2 millions of children, aged 5 to 17, are entangled by the chain of child labor. Most of them are in hazardous work condition which is 95 percent of the population of child laborers in the country. Among millions of children is Robillo Lastima, a 10 year old boy, and is currently in 5th grade in Pichon Elementary School, Brgy Tibungco, Davao City, Philippines. In his age, Robillo spends half of his time in downtown scavenging for rubbishes that he can sell in the junk shop like cans, bottles and plastics. He started scavenging when he was 8 years old because he saw his friends doing it and he wanted to help her mother. After school, he would grab a sack and start looking for metals and other recyclable materials in the neighboring villages from 12 noon until three in the afternoon. When the evening comes, he would join the others to look for plastics in Panacan and the city proper from seven in the evening until one in the morning giving him very short time for sleep. After selling, he would be given 30 to 50 pesos as his portion for the day which he would then give to his mother.
Robillo’s parents separated and he has four younger siblings. His mother, who is also a scavenger, raised their family alone. Being so busy with classifying wastes to sell for the day and doing other means to earn, his mother’s attention to his siblings is too limited. She has to leave the taking care of her children to Robillo most of the time. This kind of living led to the death of one of Robillo’s younger brothers. With the wastes around them, their house is no longer a safe place for children. It is filthy and they could not clean themselves daily due to lack of water source. Currently, one of Robillo’s younger siblings is in the hospital fighting to survive the pain of Urinary Tract Infection. Without his mother’s supervision, his siblings are exposed to eating unhealthy foods like chips that they can buy for a cheap price in a sari-sari store near them. Their income from scavenging combined would not possibly be enough for the expenses in the hospital.
Child labor exposes children to risks of danger and accidents. “Delikado kay pagmangukay ka sa basura, dili ka kabantay, and bildo musugat na diay sa imong kamot, masamad na ka. Unya ako dili baya ko hilig magtsinelas pagmamasura na mi, magtiniil baya ko.” (It is dangerous because when you dig on rubbishes, you can get wounded by broken pieces of glass and I don’t wear slippers when I scavenge, I was often barefoot.) Robillo said as he described how dangerous his work is. “Pareha ani o, naigo sa ‘tricyboat’, nakaon. Dili na kaayo ko kalakaw ato, dili na ko kauban og pamasura.dili baya lalim masamad, sakit gyud.” (Just like this. I was hit by a tricyboat. I was not able to walk for some time and I couldn’t join the others when they scavenge. It is not easy to get wounded, it hurts so much.) He pointed to his left foot where a scar was engraved due to an accident that happened while they were scavenging.
Many children are trapped in child labor which deprives them of their rights to enjoy childhood, health and education. Due to lack of access to education and social services, children are placed in circumstances where they need to go for work as labor. Albin Arasani, a 14 year old boy sailing and selling fishes, reached his age without even stepping his feet on the floor of a classroom.
He wasn’t able to attend school because he couldn’t provide birth certificate and other financial requirements. Though his father has difficulty in walking because of inability of his legs, he tried to raise the family by selling balloons in carnivals. His difficulty in walking through the bridge made of bamboos in their community was never a hindrance for him to go out of the house every day to find a living. However, his income is too small to sustain a family with nine members which pushed his children, including Albin, to work and help him. Albin really wanted to go to school but is hesitant thinking that he is too old to just start schooling and his father would lose a pair of hands that would help him in providing for the family. He recognizes that his work is dangerous. Going to the sea oftentimes is a risk for him when he goes back home with an empty boat. In times with no fishes caught, Albin would sell fishes trapped by others and have a little portion for himself to buy rice for his family. His family lives with two other families in a small space above the sea in Ilang, Davao City, Philippines.
Abdul Arakani, 15 years old, is living in the same roof with Alvin. He was abandoned by his mother to the care of his so-called grandmother, but not in any way related to Abdul. Not once in his life did he even wear uniform and go to school. He was already captured by the idea that he is obligated to work and provide for that grandmother who raised him and whom he owe his life into. “Kung muskwela ko, dili gyud makakaon akong pamilya. Bahala ako magutom basta akong pamilya dili lang.” (If I go to school, my family will starve. I would rather be the one starving than my family.) Abdul said. He never dreamed of going to school because the small amount of money that he brings into the house is not even enough for their basic needs. There were countless times already that he wanted to save money for him to buy a new shirt but the money he gets is always used to buy rice or they will starve. The income he has is always not enough for the food so he has to work double which deprives him of his physical growth. He is already 15 years old but he looks like 10.
He just dreams of nothing else but to have a boat of his own so he would no longer borrow others’ when sailing. He wanted a pump boat for easy drive and so he can reach far and catch more fishes. Going to the sea , in his age, is dangerous and it becomes more dangerous when he dives off the boat to swim to the ocean and drive the fishes out of the corals and into the waiting nets using rocks or their physical body.
The urge of the child to carry the burden that supposed to be his parents’ covers his basic rights and dreams to study and pursue a career in the future.
Child labor is a result that emanates from millions of problems in the community, high level of poverty being the number one. The desirability of child labor is widespread because of lack of support from the government in terms of education, livelihood, health, and basic needs for survival. Using this as an advantage, factories and establishments hire children for a cheap labor which exposes them to vulnerability in being exploited, prostituted and trafficked in general. In a micro level, lack of support from the community and the family led to children being susceptible to spending excessive number of hours in working which sets them apart from the path they should be taking as children – playing, studying and enjoying their childhood.
It should be in the family that children find stability and strength in developing. However, larger percent of families in the country live below poverty line. It is expected that children should help their parents not only in household chores but also earn a living. In history, children have been apprentices of their parents in their works and later on work full time. It became common for the members of the family, especially those considered able, to do the same work with their parents ad spend the same time working with the adults. This kind of mindset of the people left children with no choice and no time for school and recreation. There is a need to break this part of the culture. Children can do the work that is appropriate to their age and mental capabilities with the supervision of responsible and caring adults, not of those that burden and abuse the child and the worst part is parents don’t know about it at all.
In a macro level, the development of the country is determined on how it treats its children. The present society shows that children struggle in different aspects of being children despite laws guaranteeing their rights. The country has already a programme on the elimination of child labour which is called Philippine Program Against Child Labor. There is also a National Child Labor Committee, headed by Department of Labor and Employment, working with the government, private sectors and different people’s organizations for the removal of children from hazardous work and providing them with the services that they need. Legislators passed several child protection laws and laws prohibiting worst forms of child labor like Republic Act 9231 or An Act Providing for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labor and Affording Stronger Protection for the Working Child, but the effectiveness of enforcement is clearly missing. Extended efforts by a number of organizations to facilitate the reduction of child laborers have been challenged its way to policy advocacy. Its success depends on the political climate of the people, directly and indirectly involved in the issue, in pursuing the reduction and sooner elimination of child labor in the country.
Though continuous, the call to end child labor has slow progress and the varying statistical data on child laborers creates frustrations that the state is not totally supportive of the call provided that they focus on other aspects.
These children have dreams of their own. They wanted to be a police officer, an engineer, a doctor and all professions we can think of. The universal and timeless statement that the children are the hopes of this nation would no longer be evident when these children are not removed from the entrapment of child labor. These dreams will no longer turn into a reality if children are being incarcerated within the huge prison of limiting their way to develop mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Help these child laborers see with their own eyes the dreams that they usually draw on paper move into the very world that they belong. Discover the sense of what life is for children and take part into creating a sustainable world where there is fullness of life for all generation.