Over 3M Pinoy children in risky work conditions

Posted on June 27, 2012

OVER THREE million Filipino children worked in risky conditions last year, latest government data show, a situation traced by experts to poverty and lack of job opportunities among parents.

CHILD LABOR in a quarry site -- BW File Photo
In a forum yesterday, Carmelita N. Ericta, administrator of the National Statistics Office, said the 2011 Survey on Children (SoC) showed that the number of children from ages five to 17, who were "employed in hazardous industries or worked longer than the hours allowed" by law, has reached 3.028 million or 7% of the total population of 29 million Filipino children.

There were more child laborers (55.1%) than child workers (44.9% or 2.46 million), for a total working population of 5.49 million children.

Child workers are defined by law as those between ages five and 17 that do "permissible work" under the responsibility of parents or legal guardian and where only family members are employed.

Republic Act (RA) No. 9231 or the Special Protection of Children against Child Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act of 2003, also allowed work, with certain conditions, "where a child’s employment or participation in public entertainment or information through cinema, theater, radio, television or other forms of media is essential…."

The law, however, prohibits children from working in industries and workplaces that pose risks to their health and well-being.

Meanwhile, almost all child laborers, or 2.99 million, were involved in hazardous working conditions, such as exposure to chemical, physical and biological risks, while the rest worked for long hours, said Ms. Ericta. The data also showed boys dominated the child labor population, or 66.8%, while nearly 69.5% of the total, or 2.106 million children, attended school.

The SoC, which is conducted by the National Statistics Office as commissioned by the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the US Department of Labor, was last conducted in 2001 and 1995.

Ms. Ericta, however, said that the surveys are "not comparable," noting the "revisions and improvements in capturing child labor data."

The latest SoC used methods under RA 9231, and international statistical standards adopted in 2008, the ILO said in a statement yesterday.

Despite the enactment and implementation of laws protecting child rights, experts said economic growth has failed to have an impact on the poor, forcing families to resort to child labor to make ends meet.

In the same forum, Lawrence Jeff Johnson, country director of ILO-Philippines, noted that "the root of child labor is linked with poverty and lack of decent and productive work for parents."

"Addressing child labor is really about inclusive growth. A fast economic growth that does not translate in jobs and poverty eradication is nothing," he added.

Ms. Ericta agreed, noting that survey results show "most" of the child laborers assist in family-run farms, augment the family income, pay for their schooling, and even to help pay family debts.

"While we strive to keep children in school and away from child labor, we need to ensure decent and productive work for parents and basic social protection for families," Mr. Johnson said.

The country, through the Philippine Program Against Child Labor, has committed to substantially reduce child labor by three-fourths in 2016.

For her part, Labor Secretary Rosalinda D. Baldoz said the government is addressing child labor through "convergence programs" that provide services to child laborers and their families.

"Government agencies have gone together to give livelihood assistance to parents, provide alternative learning modes for children and remove children from abject work conditions," she said at the forum.

Ms. Baldoz also said the interagency National Child Labor Committee is formulating an action plan for July 2012-June 2016, without elaborating.

"We have just upped the ante in our fight against child labor and we are prepared for it," she added. -- Antonio Sigfried O. Alegado