Children of a lesser god

by Admin-Phmp

Text and Photo by Henrylito D. Tacio

Better late than never.

Finally, the Davao City Field Office of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) celebrated World Day Against Child Labor last June 30, according to the City Information Office.

But the celebration is 18 days later. The World Day Against Child Labor is celebrated every June 12, which is also as Independence Day in the Philippines.

During the celebration, which happened at the Mapua Malayan Colleges Mindanao, 100 child laborers “and their parents from Agdao Proper, Barangay 78-A Bucana, Matina Pangi, Isla Verde, and Lubugan participated in the event, where they got to play games and win prizes such as mobile phones, home appliances, and clothing. They were also entertained with a magic show and an acrobatic performance. Each child went home with a school bag and a sack of rice.”

All these activities, according to Consorcia Ronquillo, “aims to restore a semblance of childhood wonder to working children and urge them to concentrate on educational pursuits despite being exposed to the world of labor very early on.”

“This program of ours, us working in the government, are really striving to eliminate or at least lessen the cases of child labor,” explained Ronquillo, head of the city government’s Special Office for Children’s Concerns (SOCC), a co-partner with the celebration. “We will constantly give these children our attention, most especially in terms of their education.”

One of the objectives of SOCC is to reduce the number of child laborers in the city. Since 2018, over 4000 children are engaged in some form of child labor. Out of these, 1,200 had been withdrawn from the profile list or are no longer considered working children, while 2,500 are currently receiving social interventions in the form of education and livelihood grants.

Since the start of 2022, at least 556 children in Davao City were profiled as working children, according to Lariele P. Arce, DOLE Davao City Field Office Senior Employment Officer.

The legal definition of child labor, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), is “exploitative labor among children below 17 years of age.”

The International Labor Organization (ILO), another UN agency, said child labor is a kind of work that harms children’s well-being and hinders their education, development, and future livelihoods. When children have to work long hours, their ability to attend school or skills training is limited, preventing them from gaining an education that could help lift them out of poverty in the future.

“They go by hardly noticed, moving about in urban areas as if they did not exist. But they are there, and their presence is a strong indictment of the country’s failure to share the wealth with the masses. Children as young as five are working as scavengers, accompanying their older siblings and sometimes their parents as they collect trash that can be sold to junk shops for a few pesos. They are also in factories, in ports, in farms, toiling all day with hardly enough time to rest.”

That was part of an editorial which appeared in the October 8, 2014 issue of Edge Davao. It came out after an earlier report which said: “Instead of playing and learning their ABCs, some children as young as five years old are working as garbage collectors or scavengers in the streets of Davao City.”

Most child laborers in the country are exploited to the hilt. “Some unscrupulous individuals take advantage of the situation – the innocence of the child on human and labor rights, and cheap labor costs – by employing kids as laborers,” a lawmaker once pointed out.

Take the case of Precious, who shared her story in “Bibili Ka Ba?,” a video documentary that detailed the lives of women in prostitution in Davao City. She came from a very poor family. She was only 4 when she was pushed into the world of prostitution, not because she wanted to but because of poverty. If she won’t do it, her younger brothers and sisters would die of hunger.

Being a minor and a victim of gang rape, she decided to use her own body to earn a living and support her siblings. “I didn’t have any choice then,” she said.

“They called me different words which all mean prostitute,” Precious recalled. “They wondered what kind of a woman I am since I got home in the early morning. I was only 14 at that time.”

“Child labor is a complex problem that requires comprehensive solutions driven by moral outrage, personal commitment, community determination and national action,” ILO points out.

Apart from poverty as the principal cause of child labor, there are other contributing factors. The UNICEF lists the following: increasing pattern of family breakdown and weakening of the extended family system and other support groups; high population growth and changing family values and lifestyles, which may lead to unwanted children, promiscuity, and solo parenthood; poor enforcement of laws due to ignorance of the law, corruption or apathy; socialization of children into work; and support for children’s work in formal education.

“Robbed of their childhood” was the title of the Edge Davao editorial. It said: “Children are especially vulnerable to official neglect, and we see this in the existence of kids who at their young age are forced to work before they can even read. And that is the greater tragedy: already forced to grow up way ahead of their time, their future is also taken away from them because they are unable to go to school.”

In the Gospel of Matthew (chapter 19, verse 14), Jesus rebuked his disciples for turning away a group of children. He told them, “Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”

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