Issue of January 7, 2018

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Revisiting child labor–related law and policies

Child labor is generally speaking, work by children that harms them or exploits them in some way – physically, mentally, morally, or by blocking their access to education.

Not all work is bad for children, as some social scientists point out that some kinds of work may be completely unobjectionable – except if the work is exploiting the child.

For instance, a child who delivers newspapers before school might actually benefit from learning how to work, gaining responsibility, and a bit of money. But what if the child is not paid? Then he or she is being exploited.

As the United Nations Children’s Fund State of the World’s Children Report puts it, “Children’s work needs to be seen as happening along a continuum, with destructive or exploitative work at one end and beneficial work – promoting or enhancing children’s development without interfering with their schooling, recreation and rest – at the other. And between these two poles are vast areas of work that need not negatively affect a child’s development.” Other social scientists have slightly different ways of drawing the line between acceptable and unacceptable work.

International conventions also define “child labor” as activities such as soldiering and prostitution but not everyone agrees with this definition.

According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), there are 2.097 million child laborers in the Philippines, 58 percent of these child laborers work in agriculture; 35 percent and seven percent are in the industry. Work done by child laborers are manufacturing, mining, quarrying, construction, domestic service and general service such as in retail, restaurants and hotels.

This year, the Department of Labor and Employment as the lead agency in the implementation of the Philippine Program Against Child Labor will continue the national anti-child labor campaign, especially in poor communities.

The campaign is being waged alongside delivery of projects to combat poverty and to strategize and plan on how to achieve the target to remove 630,000 children from child labor as indicated in the 2017-2022 Philippine Development Plan.

In the Cordillera, based on the 2011 survey of the Philippine Statistics Authority and the ILO, there are 92,897 child laborers. The DOLE needs the help of all stakeholders by influencing change and obtaining commitment and support from various stakeholders to make our communities free from child labor, abuse, neglect, cruelty, exploitation or discrimination.

The reality is that children make good sources of cheap labor because they are seen as low-skilled workers without a voice, and so they are easy targets. Employers of children get away with it because supply chains have become incredibly complex and it is hard for companies to control every stage of production. Even if big brands appear to condemn acts of exploitation on the surface, it is hard for them and their consumers to know what is happening further down the line.

Article 32 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states “Parties recognize the right of the child to be protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child’s education, or to be harmful to the child’s health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development.”

Article 7 of ILO Convention No. 182 (Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labor) states that “Each member shall, taking into account the importance of education in eliminating child labor, take effective and time-bound measures to: a)Prevent the engagement of children in the worst forms of child labor; b)Provide the necessary and appropriate direct assistance for the removal of children from the worst forms of child labor and for their rehabilitation and social integration; c)Ensure access to free basic education, and, wherever possible and appropriate, vocational training, for all children removed from the worst forms of child labor; d)Identify and reach out to children at special risk; and e)Take account of the special situation of girls.

Philippine laws that protect children are: Presidential Decree 442 “Labor Code of the Philippines;” PD 603, “The Child and Youth Welfare Code;” Republic Act 9231 an 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 7610, as amended, Otherwise known as the “Special Protection of Children Against Child Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act;” RA 9775 “Anti-Child Pornography Act;” RA 10361 “Domestic Workers Act;” RA 10364 “Expanded Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2012” has included as acts of trafficking the worst forms of child labor defined in RA 9231; RA 10821 “Children’s Emergency Relief and Protection Act.”

Poverty is widely considered the top reason why children work in exploitative and inappropriate environments for their ages. But there are other reasons as well like family expectations and traditions; child abuse; lack of good schools and day care; lack of other services, such as health care; public opinion that downplays the risk of early work for children; uncaring attitude of employers and limited choices for women.

The parents of child laborers are often unemployed or underemployed, desperate for secure employment and income. Yet it is their children – more powerless and paid less – who are offered the jobs. In other words, says Unicef in their “Roots of child labor” report states that children are employed because they are easier to exploit. Other factors that contribute to instances of child labor include: limited access to compulsory, free education; irregular monitoring and weak enforcement of relevant laws; local laws that include a lot of exemptions; globalization and an emphasis on low labor costs and inability to uphold workers’ and child rights.

To stop child labor, school is the best place to work. Children everywhere deserve the chance that only education can provide; a chance to escape poverty a chance to enjoy better health and a longer life; a chance to have a decent standard of living; a chance to live free from exploitation and a chance to have fun.

Please support the “Lapis, Papel ATBP Project” which aims to help send a child laborer to school from the far-flung villages and barangays in Baguio City, Benguet, Mountain Province, Abra, Apayao, Ifugao, Kalinga and Tabuk City. For more details email us at or call 443-5339.

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