CHILD labor remains to be a concern in Davao City, especially now when more and more families are arriving in the hope of a brighter tomorrow.
“Daghan og dako pa ang atubangonon (We still face a huge and a lot of problems),” Florie May Butiong Tacang, executive director of Kaugmaon Center for Children’s Concerns Inc. said in a recent forum with child workers.
“Una ang kalisod, hangtod dili ni mahimoan og pamaagi, dili gyud matubag ang issue sa child labor. Then there is culture, yung huna-huna na okay lang ang panarbaho. Then there is lack of implementation of laws and programs related to child labor,” she added.
She cited as example the programs to respond to child labor by the Department of Labor and Employment, which is mandated by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child to address this problem.
“But kung pangutan-on unsay nahatag na programa sa mga bata na na organiza ng Kaugmaon, wala pa,” she said.
There is also the tendency to deny the child laborers existence. First, because the communities do not know the true meaning of child labor, thinking that this should be when children are employed and documented as regularly employed. Those who know, also tend to deny the existence because it will speak bad of their area, like those in government agencies tasked to address child labor, and recently, because government programs like the conditional cash transfer or 4Ps where there are specific stipulations with regards the children of beneficiaries, like they should all be attending school and are regularly getting health service from the barangay center.
“The perception is that the 4Ps cash assistance will be revoked if it becomes known that children on the family of beneficiaries are working, thus even families deny that there are child laborers among them,” Tacang said.
Invisible but there
Sixteen-year-old Junrey Bigallera, peer educator of Kabataan Protektahan Bigyan ng Magandang Kinabukasan, an organization of child laborers in Tibungco, was eight years old when he started packing and selling vegetables in the market starting past midnight.
They’d get their supplies from the farm and then repack this in the afternoon. Between 1-3 a.m., depending on what time they finish repacking, he walks to the public market through Dream Village in Malagamot, Panacan.
“Dili malikayan na makasugat mi og tambay (We would often get in trouble with gang members and drunks),” he said. Many a time, he and his siblings have to hand over what they are bringing just to be spared from trouble.
He did this for four years. After that, a junkshop owner hired him and several children as bottle cleaners.
The bottles are soaked in a huge tub of water, water that Junrey said, was only replaced once a year.
They would soak in this water to pick out the bottles inside, remove the labels and then brush this clean.
Since the water is very dirty, they have to grope round to get hold of a bottle to clean. Sometimes, there are broken ones and they would wound themselves with the shards, while soaked in the black liquid.
After this, he worked for a fertilizer packing company where he pushed carts loaded with fertilizers. They would work the whole night to earn between P90 to P200. The nights when they go home with P200, however, was very rare.
He also sacked feeds and earned P1 per sack and would then earn between P50-P150 depending again on how fast and how long he can keep on sacking feeds.
Another peer educator, Hazel Canete, of the Karapatan ng Kabataan ay Pahalagahan, another organization of child laborers, said she has six other siblings and they have all worked in the farm to help their parents earn more.
To prepare a farmland for planting, their parents earn between P70-90 a day, depending on how big an area their parents can clear up within the five hectares farmland their parents work in for the day.
She started helping out when she was eight, and worked alongside with her elder brothers and sisters.
“Kung mutabang man gud mi mas dako ang mahatag sa ila (If we help clear up a field, our parents earn more),” she said.
She also sold kakanin in Ilang market and at 15 years old, became a “caritoner” or a manual laborer pushing carts of fertilizers at the sea port.
“It’s was physically draining because we do this all night long,” she said in the vernacular. “We can’t help but feel sleepy and sometimes drowse off.”
Each load in the cart is around 50 kilos, she says. Hauling these from the ship to the waiting trucks, she earned P150 a night.
“Dili malikayan na mabubuan mi og abono. Katol og hapdos ang abono (We’d often get fertilizer all over our body. Fertilizer on your skin causes you to itch, and it also leaves a burning sensation),” she said.
While the port seem to be attracting several child laborers, the greater number of unrecognized child laborers work in the farm. Like in Cabantian, where there is a huge farming community still.
But in poor communities whether it be in the farm or in urban areas it is an accepted practice that children help earn.
This much was admitted by Amerlinda Cabanes, parent leader of Nagkahiusang Ginikanan alang sa Kalambuan sa Kabataan in Tibungco.
Before she knew about children’s rights and child labor, she said, she saw nothing unusual in bringing her six children along to scavenge through garbage from Tibungco to Barrio Obrero downtown.
“Manguykuy mi og basura sa Bacaca, sa Abreeza, nag-edad tong akong mga bata og 8, 9, 10 og 17. Pamasura ra gyud ang among pagpangitaan og wala ko kabalo unsa na’ng child labor (We’d scavenge through garbage in Bacaca, even in Abreeza. My brrod were aged 8, 9, 10, and 17. Our only source of income is the garbage and I didn’t know anything about child labor),” she said.
Moi said they make it a point not just to help organize children but also organize parents, so that the community becomes better aware of the situations their children are in, and thus be more capable of addressing concerns about child rights.
“Kung dili man maundang ang pagpanarbaho sa mga bata, at least dili gyud unta maundang ang pangeskwela (If the child really cannot stop working, then at least, the child should not be forced to stop schooling),” she said.
It takes a village
Child labor, however, can never be solved when circumstances continue to be favorable for its existence. Even if there are programs that force children to stay in school or those that keep them out of work, like the programs of the Departments of Education, Social Works and Development, and Labor and Employment.
It takes a whole community, a whole nation, to act against it and provide better opportunities for the adults so that the children will no longer have to sacrifice their yong bodies just to feed their parents and siblings.
“Child labor can never be eliminated by a project,” said Martin Liebetzan, regional director of AWO International in Southeast Asia.
Awo is a German non-government organization that focuses on children issues worldwide. rAther, it takes the full cooperation and participation of all to ensure that the future are well-equipped with education and proper skills development that does not compromise their physical, intellectual, psychological, and spiritual health.
“Child labor does not only violate children’s rights but puts our society at risk,” Liebetzan said.