Attacking the Child Labour in the Philippines: An Indicative Framework for Philippine-ILO Action
1. The Philippines epitomizes all the hopes, and most of the fears, of developing countries which are struggling to ensure that the futures of their children are not squandered through a childhood spent at work. Few countries have been as forthright as the Philippines in acknowledging the problem of child labour and the need to act on it. Few, if any, have witnessed such a rich diversity of actions aimed at preventing child labour and at protecting and rehabilitating working children; actions supported by the highest levels of Government and undertaken at all levels of government and by non-government organizations and community groups. Despite this concerned effort, far more still needs to be done in order to make a significant impact on the problem. There are all too many children in the workforce, all too many, in particular, who face physical risks and hazards to their physical, social, intellectual and psychological development.
2. The impressive rates of economic growth registered by the newly industrializing countries of east and south-east Asia have nit yet been matched by the Philippines, which has witnessed a series of economic setbacks and natural disasters. However, recent economic indicators are much more encouraging. This has further strengthened the Philippines' resolve to demonstrate that democracy does not have to wait for economic development, but rather can be a force for development. The Philippines has placed a high value on education and social welfare. This commitment to education and to children's welfare does not, however, automatically translate in the Philippines into a disapproval of child labour. The society, especially amongst the economically disadvantaged groups, tends to value the contribution which children can make to their family through work. While this motivating factor for child labour is economic in part, since the income which children can earn from work is important to the many families living on or below the poverty line, it also has foundation in commonly held beliefs about children's developmental experiences. In recent years, increasing concern has been expressed about an erosion of family values, which may put children at greatest risk. A major challenge before the country now, as it undergoes a period of structural adjustment, is to ensure that economic development does not prejudice development of its human resources, and in particular that adequate protection is extended to the most vulnerable groups during the process of adjustment. There can be little doubt that children are the most vulnerable of all groups.
3. The Government's commitment to its children is clear. A vision for the child is set out in the Philippine Plan of Action for Children, which represents a continuity of action that includes goals relating to the elimination of child labour in hazardous occupations or situations and the protection and rehabilitation of abused and exploited working children. This commitment is also reflected in the international obligations which the Government has assumed. It has ratified three international labour Conventions concerning working children, of which the most important is the Minimum Age (Industry) Convention (Revised) (No. 59) as well as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). In ratifying CRC, the Government recognized "the right of the child to be protected from the economic exploitation and from performing any kind of 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" and committed itself to "take legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to ensure the implementation" of this (Article 32). The Philippine Child and Youth Welfare Code, and Labor Code and more recent legislation (Republic Acts 7610 and 7658) confirm this mandate.
4. The task for the Government-and it is an important responsibility of Government. Although a wide range of partners are necessary in working for its achievement-is to translate these obligations and goals into practice. There should be no doubt that this can be achieved, despite the economic, social and other barriers that exist, if the political will, at both national and local levels, is string enough. These lofty goals and public statements need to be backed by the determination, and the resources, needed to fulfill them.
5. Information on the problem is rather extensive by comparison with many other countries and yet still certainly inadequate, especially as concerns the number of younger child workers, gender disaggregation of data on child workers, and the nature of the work performed and of the hazards faced children in occupations and industries which are inherently difficult to study. However, available evidence shows that child labour is a widespread problem in the Philippines. Accordingly higher since many working children below the age of 10, as well as those from 10-14, are not identified by these statistics.
6. The situation has assumed a new dimension linked to the very rapid rate of rural-urban migration and the consequent growth in the urban informal sector which provides countless opportunities for children to work, beyond the reach of traditional monitoring and enforcement and often outside the generally more protected family environment. The global demand for competitiveness and the search for cheap labour may also create greater pressures for child labour. While attention has been focused particularly on problems in the cities, the problem belongs also, at least in terms of the sheer numbers of child workers, to the rural areas, where three-quarters of child workers live and work.
7. Working children are found in practically all sectors, both urban and rural cutting across all major occupational groups. They are working as an integral part of the family workforce in small-scale agricultural production, as well as on sugar cane and other plantations. They are working in services, including street vending and domestic service, as well as those trapped in prostitution. They are also working in manufacturing industry, and are even found in conditions which amount to forced labour.
Priority areas for action
8. The Department of Health has established a definition of hazardous workplaces, while the department of Labor and Employment has drawn up a lengthy list of occupations prejudicial to the working child's health, safety and morals. Whether a fairly narrow approach is adapted to defining risks or an assessment is based on a wider definition of hazards, encompassing other factors besides the danger to physical impairment, it is clear that certain types of work can be harmful to children. Some types of work, such as in mines and deep-sea diving, are dangerous even to adults. Children working on the streets or scavenging and those trapped in prostitution are exposed to violence as well as to threats to their moral development and to health risks. Children in domestic service are often isolated and may suffer physical and sexual abuse. Children in home-based industries often work in poor and even unsafe conditions. Agricultural work, besides its arduous nature and excessively long hours that are often required, may expose children to pesticides and other harmful chemicals. There is also a special category of children comprising the victims of trafficking who are brought from other provinces, generally the most economically depressed regions, to Metro Manila and the surrounding areas, and whose situation often amounts to forced labour.
9. All working children are basically at risk: the ultimate objective of society should therefore be the elimination of child labour. However, the problem of child labour will not be solved overnight. It is a large and complex problem, some aspects of which are probably not yet capable of solution, for example, until a better knowledge and understanding can be gained, or until further progress has been made in addressing underlying social, cultural or economic factors. The resources available for combating child labours are glaringly inadequate when set against the magnitude of the problem. But no progress will be made at all unless a start is made somewhere. The Government has already recognized the need to establish priorities and the Philippine Plan of Action for Children sets targets for the protection and rehabilitation of abused and exploited working children and for the banning of children in hazardous occupations or situations, with priority being accorded to disadvantaged, depressed and undeserved families and communities. The Government-UNICEF Child Labour Project Plan of Operations also establishes priorities for action. These emphasize action at the local level, without which no strategy to combat child labour will be effective.
10. Within this framework, it is also essential that priorities should be establish at the national level for the contribution that can be made by the ILO's International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC). These priorities should be set with the objective of supporting national efforts to combat child labour, in such a way that it is possible for activities supported by ILO to have clear impact on children's lives and to result in sustained action. With this in mind, the priorities should emphasize action designed to prevent child labour and should aim at a reduction in child labour in a few key particular industries or occupations which pose a direct danger of physical or emotional injury to the children employed in them. The age and sex of the children working in these industries or occupations, the incidence of child labour in the industry or occupation and accessibility to preventive, protective and rehabilitative actions should be taken into account. There are many children indeed, in very many industries and occupations, to whom attention should be paid as part of the overall national effort in combating child labour. Of these, ILO action in the short to medium term (two to five years) should focus particularly on the following groups:
- children who are the victims of trafficking;
- children employed in mining and quarrying;
- children in home-based industries, especially under subcontracting arrangements; and
- children trapped in prostitution.
11. Further groups of at-risk children who should be next to be considered for the action supported by the ILO are:
- children working in sugar-cane plantations;
- children working in vegetable farms;
- children engaged in pyrotechnics production; and
- children engaged in deep-sea diving.
12. An impressive wide range of organizations are active in the struggle against child labour. These include government agencies from the national down to the barangay (village) level, non-governmental organizations, communities, workers' organizations and also employers' organizations, as well as the children themselves. They have shown a considerable capacity to collaborate with each other. It is not yet enough to make a substantial and visible impact on the problem. There is a need to widen still further the list of partners and to find still better ways for them to combine their different separate strengths to make the most useful contribution to the whole. Employers' and workers' organizations need to recognize that child labour is a central, not peripheral, concern for them. Non-governmental organizations and peoples' organizations with strong ties to the local communities must continue to play a crucial role: the problem is to find ways to build on their actions so as to widen the area of impact. Larger, more development-oriented NGOs should be encouraged to direct their attention to the key child labour activities and to replicate when on a wider scale, while more active partnerships with parliamentarians, with the press and others involved in communications and with educators should also be sought. This extension of the list of partners will mean that an even more important contribution is needed from the existing partners.
Children who are the victims of trafficking
13. The most disadvantaged regions of the country, where poverty, unemployment, underemployment, landlessness and armed conflict combine to deny many children and their families the prospect of a secure future, are natural target areas for unscrupulous recruitment agencies. These agencies operate particularly in Samar-Leyte, Negros, Bicol, Cebu Province and Mindanao. They use a combination of deception, false promises and cash incentives to win over the parents or the child directly, to whom Manila and other major cities must already seem a symbol of success and opportunity. The agencies are well organized: they have a network of local contacts and receive assistance in moving their human cargo; they have good connections with government authorities and fabricate contracts to attest to the lawfulness of their operations. As for the children, they end up as factory workers, domestic servants, victims of prostitution or on the streets. In the case of child victims of trafficking who are sent to factories, a separate responsibility for this exploitation of children is borne by the factory employers, which is compounded by the often disgraceful conditions under which the children are made to live and work.
14. The most visible current interventions are in the rescue of trafficking children in factories. This requires investigation to identify target factories; immersion, through links with people's organizations, workers' organizations and the victims themselves; and cooperation with the Department of Labor and Employment and the National Bureau of Investigation to prepare and conduct the rescue operations. The follow-up work, in terms both of rehabilitation and reintegration of the children and of prosecution, advocacy and social mobilization, is an integral part of this strategy. It requires a long-term commitments and support from a variety of partners. Another approach involves the organization of migrant communities, with the aim of responding to parents' reports of missing children and to children's own reports and calls for help. Such communities can play a major role by tracing, retrieving and sheltering child victims of trafficking. Child domestic servants, hidden behind the walls of their employers, are a group about whom all too little is known and comparatively little attention is paid in action programmes.
15. The only possible objective for children who are the victims of trafficking is the total elimination of such abuses. Long-term measures are needed to address the underlying causes of the problem. More immediately, direct action aimed at assisting the victims of child trafficking is still in its infancy in the Philippines. There is a need for more effective and new approaches to detection, intelligence and rescue, and for a collaborative effort by national and local government agencies and non-governmental organizations. Studies should be undertaken to identify the geographical areas where recruitment takes place and efforts made to mobilize the communities. Approaches should also be developed for action aimed at detecting and rescuing child victims of trafficking other than those in factories including action aimed at combating the recruiters and syndicates involved in trafficking of child victims of prostitution. Improved efforts at enforcement - which must be supported by measures to maintain and protect the victims who will act as witnesses and by rehabilitation and reintegration services - should go hand in hand with reconsideration of judicial process and development of child-sensitive procedures, review of legislation, awareness raising, reorientation of labour inspectors and other government officials and the judiciary, a communication programme and a public declaration of commitment at the highest levels to tackle the problem decisively. Finally, there is a pressing need to assist with the training of service provides, to improve planning. Monitoring, evaluation and coordination, and to strengthen peoples' organizations which can play a major role in this struggle. The ILO can offer support to all of these actions.
Children Employed in Mining and Quarrying
16. Mining and quarrying activities are clearly extremely dangerous even when performed by adults and are included among the list of hazardous occupations forbidden to children and young persons below the age of eighteen. Nonetheless, many children are employed in such work, principally in small-scale mining and quarrying operations and in gold planning. Indeed, there has been a concentration of the youngest children in the most dangerous operations, such as entering newly dug tunnels. While quarrying is a nationwide phenomenon, children working in small-scale mines tend to concerned in Negros, Cagayan de Oro, South Cotabato, Davao, Benguet, Mountain Province and Masbate.
17. This is a problem which has, understandably, received a good deal of attention in the past. Actions have included support for alternative income generating opportunities, education and training for children and their families provision of welfare services to children and their families, and advocacy. The challenge for the future is to identify which of these actions have had the greatest success in removing children from this work and keeping them out, and to find ways to expand those activities on a wide scale.
18. Preventive actions will focus on creating and sustaining awareness of the hazards facing the children who are engaged in this work and of the magnitude of the problem. These should include the production and dissemination of information materials, social mobilization and the establishment of fora for consultation and dialogue. Protection and removal of these child workers is not easy: it will need to depend on a combination of actions, including legislation, efforts to institutionalize detection. Monitoring and reporting of child labour cases, and a commitment to strict enforcement. Rehabilitation programmes will no doubt emphasize the provision of basic services. While some elements of this strategy for combating the employment of children in mines and quarries will be more appropriately undertaken by other agencies, it is clear that the ILO can make a substantial contribution in others.
Children in home-based industries, especially under subcontracting arrangements.
19. Child homework's, working as part of the family unit where families are employed as sub-contractors, are found in many different industries and provinces. Virtually any home-based work done under sub-contract lends itself reality to child labour, but there seems to be a particular incidence of sub-contracting which involves child work in:
(a) pyrotechnics production, principally in Cebu, Bulacan and Negros Occidental;
(b) garment manufacture, especially in Rizal, Bulacan, Laguna and Batangas;
(c) footwear production, where Marikina is a center of production; and
(d) handicraft production, for example in Bicol, Cebu and Pangasinan.
The hazards of such work depend on the industry or occupation concerned pyrotechnics production, for example, is inherently dangerous whereas in other industries the hazards may be of a less immediate nature, related more to the exploitative conditions under which the work is often performed. The work is by its nature hidden from traditional inspection and enforcement activities and often occurs in very poor working conditions.
20. Responses to the problem have been developing as the situation of homeworkers has increasingly been placed on the public agenda, particularly by the trade unions and concerned NGOs. These responses are not necessarily directed particularly at children. Action to improve the conditions of homeworkers and trade union efforts to prevent home-based sub-contracting has indeed primarily concerned adult workers, although some of it at least would equally benefit working children. It has included research and surveys, to locate the children affected and determine their conditions of work as well as efforts by the National Statistics Office to build a better information base on homeworkers; pressure for the developing of policies on social protection for homeworkers; advocacy; and, in the case of the garments industry where access to export markets has been linked to child labour, tripartite attention through industry councils. Support for alternative income generating activities, provision of welfare services and organizing for community action have also featured in past and current responses.
21. A programme for action for children in home-based industries will continue to build on the diverse activities that are currently being undertaken. While there will be many common threads, distinct strategies will need to be developed for each of the groups of children in home-based industries on whom attention is focused. In general, preventive action must emphasize the design and establishment of materials for community mobilization and community-based monitoring. It will also be based on awareness raising, with emphasis given to children's rights and gender issues. Protection should particularly be geared to provision of basic services, especially free, compulsory education. It should also be pursued through efforts to develop more effective models for enforcement of laws and regulations and for improvement in the negotiating capacity of homeworkers. Efforts at capacity building should focus on the need for an improved knowledge base. In view of the clear link between sub-contracted home work and the strategies of employers in the formal sector, it is formal sector, it is imperative that workers' and employers' organizations cooperate with national and local government agencies, NGOs and people's organizations in pursuing these areas for action. The ILO could contribute in some of these.
Children trapped in Prostitution
22. Children, whether male or female (although the overwhelming majority are female) are exploited in prostitution and other sexual abuse such as pornography and indecent shows in many parts of the country. The greatest numbers are found in Metro Manila, Cebu, Iloilo, Davao and tourist areas, in motels, brothels, bars, discos and on the streets. The dangers they face are obvious and extreme: long-term psychosocial damage, corruption of moral and spiritual values, the risk of AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases, and the threat of physical violence and abuse. Nobody could contest that these children are in special-desperate-need of assistance.
23. They have, indeed received considerable attention from both government agencies and NGOs. This has included efforts to remove children trapped in prostitution, both through outreach programme and through investigation, raids on motels and brothels and prosecution of criminal cases against the exploiters of the children; protection and rehabilitation programmes; advocacy; awareness raising , and training of relevant government officials and NGO worker on handling cases of prostituted children.
24. Experience has confirmed that it is difficult to get children out of prostitution and to keep them out. Existing efforts - based on orientation of and coordination with law enforcement agencies and local government units; prosecution and imposition of sanctions against the exploiters of the children; publicity of abuse and violations, and establishment of rehabilitation and reintegration centers - should be continued and upgraded. But this will not be enough; efforts are needed to find new approaches to protection, rehabilitation and reintegration. Particular attention should be paid to prevention, since nowhere is it more true that prevention is better than a cure. Action should include measures to improve the understanding of the problem, the mobilization of communities against child labour and awareness raising and training. Efforts need to be made to identify and target the communities from which the victims of prostitution are drawn, with the aim of raising awareness amongst parents, children and others in those communities on the reality of the children's situation. The ILO could assist in many of these types of action.
Action at the National Level
25. There are many activities which need to be carried out to strengthen national capacity, to provide support to NGO efforts and to reinforce the campaign against child labour. These activities help to provide a framework for, and to sustain, the specific action which has been called for in relation to the priority target groups identified above. They also help to ensure that lessons can be learned from the successes and failures encountered with regard to a particular target group. One key is an adequate knowledge base to enhance policy and programme formulation and implementation. To this end, analytical research should aim at: provision of information on hitherto unexplored areas of child labour; identification of indicators for assessing hazards and risks to which working children are exposed; documentation and analysis of successful child labour programmes specially from the point of view of sustainability and replicability; and feasibility studies on alternative livelihood and skills training programmes. A coalition of partners need to develop a communications programme, with particular attention to the priority target groups, which would multiply the usefulness and value of the knowledge base in changing public attitudes.
26. Another overriding priority is action to strengthen the capacity of partner agencies and to widen the circle of partners. A programme is needed aimed at building and capacity of NGOs in advocacy, community organization and project implementation. The capacity of local government to deal with child labour as an integral part of its daily concerns and to institutionalize its responses to the problem should also be strengthened. Employers and their organizations must also be encouraged and assisted to realize more fully their potential in advocacy and in promoting action, by raising funds and, in collaboration with the ILO, by establishing and giving awards to deserving agencies and groups. There is also a need to improve mechanisms for monitoring and evaluating current programmes and projects in the field of child labour.
27. If there is one area of direct action with child workers that affects all categories of workers, where action is indispensable at the national level, it is the provision of free, compulsory, universal education. The experience of industrialized countries and the evidence from many developing countries show that education is one of the most powerful instruments for the effective abolition of child labour. It is also an important source of national competitive advantage, as the Philippines is poised to demonstrate. And it is a basic human right, the importance of which has long been recognized by legislators and the community. "Free" education is in reality far from free: in addition to the opportunity costs of time spent at school instead for work, there are many direct costs such as books, uniforms, transportation and meals that restrict children's ability to benefits from education: indeed, many children have to work in order to go to school. While measures are being taken to improve access to education for the most disadvantaged sectors of the community, through targeting of school building and other programmes such as subsidies to enable to poorest children to remain in education, these efforts have taken place in the overall context of a rapid decline in the proportion of the national budget which is allocated to education. Much more can still be done to improve the opportunities for child workers to remain in school, to return to school or to undertake non-formal education or skills training, but these efforts cannot take the place of an overall commitment to increasing education's share of the budget.
These specific actions aimed at combating child labour take place in the current national context. This does not mean that the national context should be accepted as given. Rather, the opposite is true: the social, cultural and economic factors that are the root of the child labour problem must themselves be tackled if the Philippines is to make good its promise to its children.