A concerted government and private sector effort is needed to put a stop to child labor in Western Visayas, which has the third highest number in the Philippines, a Department of Interior and Local Government official said yesterday.
“The existence of child labor in the sugarcane industry is still a very big challenge in Western Visayas,” Margie Biligan, DILG assistant regional director for Region 6, said at the opening of the two-day "Children of the Canes III” national conference for the protection and development of children in the sugar industry at L'Fisher Hotel in Bacolod City.
Biligan said the 2011 Survey on Children conducted by the National Statistics Office shows that about 18.9 percent out of more than 29 million Filipino children aged 5 to 17 are already working.
That translates to 5.49 million young Filipinos in the labor force, she said, noting that the figure is higher than the four million Filipino working children registered in a 2001 survey conducted by the International Labor Organization and the US Department of Labor.
“The increase is very alarming,” Biligan said.
Sixty percent of the country’s child laborers are in the agriculture sector, she said, quoting the NSO survey.
Among those engaged in child labor in Western Visayas are the children of the sacadas or the sugarcane workers who flock to haciendas in search of livelihood, she said.
“Without any option, these children go with their parents to the haciendas and are exposed to harsh living conditions there; at times working alongside the adults in the field,” she pointed out.
It is sad to note that it is very difficult to trace actual statistics on child labor, especially among the sacadas, Biligan said.
The 2011 NSO survey on children shows that of the 5.49 million who were working, CALABARZON has the most at 1,077,172 followed by Central Visayas with 1,045,238, Western Visayas – 872,426, Central Luzon – 824,124, Bicol – 46,542, Northern Mindanao – 724,484;
Eastern Visayas – 722,534, Zamboanga Peninsula – 646,119, Davao – 590,338, National Capital Region – 57,737, SOCSKSARGEN – 538,493, MIMAROPA – 485,875, Ilocos Region – 31,944, ARMM – 382,670, Cagayan Valley – 332,656, Caraga – 232,830, and the Cordillera Administrative Region – 150,354.
But she pointed out that the Philippines has pledged to reduce by 75 percent all worst forms of child labor by 2015, anchored on the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goal of reducing extreme poverty.
The NSO survey also shows that only 69.5 percent of child laborers, or 2.106 million, were attending school, she added.
There is an urgent need to get to the root of child labor that is linked to poverty and lack of decent and productive work for parents, she said.
As an initial step toward addressing the problem of child labor, she said the DILG has committed its resources and efforts by batting for a broad-based partnership between the key players in the sugar industry, the LGUs and the business sector in localizing efforts to sugar-producing communities.
She lauded the Laura Vicuña Foundation for spearheading the national conference and leading activities to combat the proliferation of child labor among sacada children.
Sr. Maria Victoria Sta. Ana, LVF executive director, said the “Children of the Canes” is a venue to engage the participants in a public conversation to redefine social responsibility in sugarcane growing communities and map-out what the planters, local government units, workers, media, nongovernment organizations, civil society and the youth can do together for the protection and development of children of the canes.
Sr. Sarah Garcia, LVF president, said child labor is actually just a chain in the link of child protection issues.
To touch it is to open other wounds that chafe at the promotion of the children’s rights: child trafficking, illiteracy, domestic abuse, exploitation, discrimination, poverty, she said, stressing that the problem is overwhelming but they work with hope.
Children from the haciendas can be better persons through education, she stressed.*CPG