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Introduction: Historical Evolution Of Child Labour Laws In The Philippines

     Laws which restrict the employment of children sprung largely from social reform movements of the late nineteenth century. Although work had traditionally been seen as essential to a child's upbringing, the growth of industrialism gradually changed the nature of the work and attitudes toward it. Children who were sent to meet the increasing demand for workers in factories suffered in economic terms and were no longer being trained in a vocation but typically learned only how to do small tasks. It was becoming apparent that work in factories was physically harmful to children who were being given the unhealthiest work. The increasing awareness of the abuse and exploitation accompanying child labour, thereupon, produced demands for reform. Pressure for child labour laws began to grow at the same time as pressure for compulsory education, and the two movements developed alongside in the years from 1830 to 1930.

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Act. No. 3071

     In the Philippines, the concern for the plight of working children started as early as March 16, 1923, during the American Regime, when Act No. 3071, "An Act to Regulate the Employment of Women and Children in Shops, Factories, Industrial, Agricultural and Mercantile Establishments, and Other Place of Labour in the Philippine Islands, to Provide Penalties for Violations Hereof and for Other Purposes" was enacted into law. The Woman and Child Labour Section of the Inspection Division of the then Bureau of Labour, was assigned to enforce this Act in 1925.

     Act No. 3071 prohibited the employment of persons below certain ages, depending on the type of work or establishment involved. For example, the employment of persons in mines or in places where explosives are used or manufactured was prohibited for persons below 14 years of age. Work in connection with the preparation of any poisonous, noxious, explosive or infectious substance was prohibited for persons below 16 years of age. Act No. 3071 also set the minimum age of employment at 16 years for the following types of work: operator of elevators; motorman or fireman; cleaning of machinery; underground work; work in billiard rooms, cockpits or other places where games are being played with stakes of money; work in dance halls, stadiums or race courses as bailarinas, boxers or jockeys; and sale of medicines and drugs in a pharmacy or for any work that may affect the health of the public. Work in bars was likewise prohibited for males under 16 years of age and for females under 18 years of age. In the case of other acts not specified in Act No. 3071, which involves serious danger to the life of the labourer, the minimum age of employment was set at 18 years.

     Act No. 3071 also prescribed the conditions of work of children. The employer was required to provide proper seats for women and children, to allow them not less than 60 minutes for their noon meal, and to have in his establishment a duly certified copy of the birth certificates of each of his labourers below 18 years of age. Moreover, the written consent of the children's parents or guardians is a prerequisite to their employment. Children below 16 years of age may not be employed to work before 6:00 a.m. or after 6:00 p.m., and may not work for more than 7 hours daily or 42 hours weekly. The employment of persons below 14 years of age on school days was also prohibited, unless such children know how to read and write.

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Revised Penal Code

     In 1932, the Revised Penal Code (RPC), a codification of the country's penal laws, was enacted into law. The RPC, which remains in effect up to this day, contains several provisions prohibiting certain types of child work, such as "Exploitation of Child Labour" (Art. 273) and "Exploitation of Minors" (Art. 278). The former prohibits the retaining of a minor in one's service against his/her will under the pretext of reimbursing a debt incurred by the minor's ascendants. The latter prohibits the employment of a minor under 16 years of age as an acrobat, gymnast, diver, wild-animal tamer, and in other dangerous exhibitions. Other provisions in the RPC relating to slavery, prostitution,corruption of minors, illegal detention and kidnapping of minors, are equally applicable to child workers depending on their particular situation.

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R.A. 679

     In 1946, the Philippines proclaimed its independence from American Rule and became a Republic. Gradually, the existing laws enacted under the former regime were replaced by Republic Acts. Thus, on April 15, 1952, Act No. 3071 was repealed by Republic Act (R.A.) No. 679, "An Act to Regulate the Employment of Women and Children, to Provide Penalties for Violation Hereof, and for Other Purposes". The implementation of R.A. 679 was entrusted to the Women and Minors Division of the former Bureau of Labour Standards, in 1957.

     Under R.A. 679, children below 14 years of age may only be employed to perform light work which is not harmful to their health or normal development, and which is not such as to prejudice their attendance in school. Likewise, no child below 14 years of age may be employed on school days unless such child knows how to read and write. Nevertheless, these requisites need not be present for children below 14 years old employed in the following permissible instances: 1) domestic work; 2) establishments in which only members of the family are employed, except employment which is harmful or dangerous; 3) work done in vocational, technical or professional schools, not intended for commercial profit; and 4) employment as gymnast, acrobat or circus performer, or in any dancing, theatrical or musical exhibition.

     R.A. 679 retained the previous age limit of 16 years set by Act No. 3071 for the following types of work: operator of elevators, motorman, or fireman; operator/cleaner of machinery; underground work; and work in billiard rooms, cockpits, other place where games are played with stakes of money, or in a bar, night club, dance hall, stadium or race track, as waiter, boxer or jockey. In addition, R.A. 679 prohibited the employment of persons below 16 years in the following types of work: work in mines, quarries, etc.; undertakings in which articles are manufactured, transformed, altered, repaired, demolished, etc.; undertakings engaged in shipbuilding or in the generation or transmission of electricity or motive power; undertakings engaged in building and civil engineering works; undertakings engaged in the transport of passengers or goods, or in the handling of goods at docks, wharves or airports, etc.. However, R.A. 679 raised to 18 years the previous age limit of 16 years, set by Act No. 3071 for work in any pharmacy for the preparation of drugs, and for work done in connection with the preparation of or involves contamination with any noxious, poisonous, infectious or explosive substances,. Eighteen years remained the age limit for other types of work involving serious danger to the life or health of the employee.

     Of particular significance in R.A. 679 is the power of the Secretary of Labour to grant a special work permit for the employment of a child whose employment is otherwise prohibited, "whenever in his judgment, the economic necessity of the family to which such child belongs requires his assistance for increasing the family income".

     The conditions of work of children required by Act No. 3071 were reproduced in R.A. 679. However, the new law added a few more requirements such as the "medical examination of children for fitness for employment" before actual employment and every 6 months thereafter or oftener, and the prohibition on night work, from 10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m., of persons between 16 and 18 years of age.

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ILO Convention Nos. 59, 77 & 90

     In the years 1953 and 1960, respectively, the Philippines ratified three international conventions adopted by the International Labour Organization (ILO), relating to child labour. These are: ILO Convention No. 59, "Minimum Age for Admission of Children to Industrial Employment"; ILO Convention No. 77, "Medical Examination for Fitness for Employment in Industry of Children and Young Persons; and ILO Convention No. 90, "Night Work of Young Persons Employed in Industry". The conventions ratified by member states create binding obligations upon them.

     ILO Convention No. 90, ratified by the country in May 1953, prohibits the employment of children in industry during night time. The term night signifies a period of at least 12 consecutive hours which includes the interval between 10:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. for children below 16 years of age, and aperiod which includes the interval of at least 7 consecutive hours between 10:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m. for children between 16 and 18 years old.

     ILO Convention No. 59, which the country ratified in May 1960, fixes the minimum age of employment for industry at 15 years but allows younger children to be employed in undertakings in which only members of the employer's family are employed, provided that such work are not dangerous to the life, health or morals of the children employed therein.

     ILO Convention No. 77, which the country ratified also in May 1960, requires the medical examination of children as a pre-requisite to employment and their subsequent re-examinations therein. It also contains medical examination guidelines for different types of work for children.

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R.A. 2714

     On June 18, 1960, R.A. 2714, "An Act to Establish in the Department of Labour a Bureau to be Known as Women and Minors Bureau" was passed into law. This Bureau replaced the former Women and Minors Division of the Bureau of Labour Standards and was tasked, among others, to administer and enforce, the woman and child labour laws. The Bureau of Women and Minors was renamed Bureau of Women and Young Workers in 1987.

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P.D. 148

     The failure of the successive administrations to cope with the economic crises that befell the country after the war, to arrest the increasing gross imbalances in societal structures, and to curb the rapid increase in population, led to the onslaught of poverty in the 1960s to the 1970s. This propelled the sudden upsurge in the number of children who began to work in order to augment their families' income. The resulting discontent stirred by the rampant graft and corruption in the government impelled the growth of student activism which forced the Marcos government to place the entire country under martial law in 1972. The legislative body was abolished and the President's decrees partook of the nature of laws. During the Martial Law era, several Presidential Decrees (P.D.s) were issued resulting in the amendment of the child labour laws.

     On March 13, 1973, P.D. No. 148 amended R.A. 679, The Woman and Child Labour Law. P.D. 148 simplified the complex provisions of R.A. 679 which provided confusing age limits for different types of undertakings. Under the new law, P.D. 148, "no child below 14 years of age shall be employed by any employer, except where the child works directly under the sole responsibility of his parent or guardian, involving activities which are not hazardous in nature and which do not in any way interfere with his schooling." Under the same Act, "any person between 14 and 18 years of age may be employed in any non-hazardous undertaking."

     Noticeably, this law repealed the previous exceptions to the minimum age of employment allowed by R.A. 679, such as light work, domestic work, work done in schools, work demanded by economic necessity, etc., leaving only one type of exception as stated above. It is also worth noting that P.D. 148 contravened ILO Convention No. 59 which fixes the minimum age of employment in industry at 15 years. Nevertheless, the conditions of work of children prescribed by R.A. 679 were not repealed by the new law.

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P.D. 442 - Labour Code

     After only one year from its enactment, P.D. 148 was amended by the passage of P.D. 442, the Labour Code of the Philippines, on November 1, 1974. The Labour Code raised the minimum age of employment from 14 years to 15 years, thereby complying with the requirements of ILO Convention No. 59. Article 139 of the Labour Code prohibits the employment of a child below 15 years "except when he works directly under the sole responsibility of his parents or guardian, and his employment does not in any way interfere with his schooling".

     The Labour Code retained the previous minimum age for hazardous undertakings at 18 years. It also added a minimum age requirement for apprentices, which is 14 years. Unfortunately, the terms and conditions of employment of children, provided by R.A. 679, as amended by P.D. 148, were not reproduced in the Labour Code, thus creating a serious gap in the new law.

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P.D. 603 - Child and Youth Welfare Code

     On December 10, 1974, one month after the Labour Code was passed, P.D. 603 or the Child and Youth Welfare Code was enacted into law. The new law, which took effect on June 5, 1975, is a codification of different provisions for the well-being of all children. P.D. 603 permits the employment of children below 16 years of age for "light work which is not harmful to their safety, health or normal development and which is not prejudicial to their studies." This provision should, however, be read in conjunction with the Labour Code which allows the employment of children below 15 years, only if under the direct and sole responsibility of their parents or guardian.

     The Child and Youth Welfare Code includes a host of other benefits for working children such as the duty of employers to submit reports and to keep a register of employed children, the right of working children to self-organization, welfare programmes, etc.

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U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child

     Despite the existing laws banning child labour, no serious efforts were exerted by the Marcos government and its predecessors to resolve the growing problem. In 1986, after the people's revolution brought about the peaceful change of government, revelations about the abuses and exploitation suffered by the country's children started to unfold. At the same time, demands for reforms in government policies, legislation and programmes affecting children gradually intensified. The new government responded by ratifying the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) on July 26, 1990. The U.N. CRC entered into force as an international agreement on September 2, 1990.

     Unlike the ILO Conventions on child labour, the U.N. CRC does not provide a specific age limit for the employment of children, leaving it up to the ratifying countries to set their own policies on the matter. Nevertheless, it directs the ratifying countries to protect the children from economic exploitation and from performing work which is hazardous or which is harmful to the child's health, education, and development. It further obliges countries to provide for a minimum age of employment, for regulation of the hours and conditions of employment of children, and for proper penalties or sanctions against the violators of children's rights.

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R.A. 7610 - The Child Protection Law

     On June 17, 1992, to comply with the mandate of the U.N. CRC, the government enacted R.A. 7610, "An Act Providing for Stronger Deterrence and Special Protection Against Child Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination, Providing Penalties for Its Violation and For Other Purposes". Although, R.A. 7610 was lauded for the innovative provisions it introduced for the protection of children in especially difficult circumstances, it was nevertheless severely criticized for its provisions on working children which abruptly changed the entire Philippine policy of prohibiting child labour. Article VIII, Section 12, of R.A. 7610 legalized the employment of all children below 15 years of age, provided only that the employer first secures a work permit from the Department of Labour and Employment and ensures the protection of the child.

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R.A. 7658

     Upon pressure from the Department of Justice, non-governmental organizations, and international bodies such as the ILO and UNICEF, the Philippine Congress, realizing that Article VIII, Section 12, of R.A. 7610 is a flagrant violation of ILO Convention No. 59, enacted a new law to amend such section after only one year from its passage. R.A. 7658, "An Act Prohibiting the Employment of Children Below 15 Years of Age in Public and Private Undertakings" was passed into law in October, 1993, thereby restoring the erstwhile prohibition on the employment of children below 15 years of age.

     R.A. 7658 allows only two exceptions to the prohibition on employment below the minimum age: 1) "work directly under the sole responsibility of the child's parents or legal guardian and where only members of the employer's family are employed", and 2) "where a child's employment in public entertainment or information through cinema, theater, radio or television is essential". The first exception is merely a reproduction of those contained in previous laws (Labour Code and ILO Convention No. 59), with the added requisite that the guardian be a legally appointed one. The second exception is something new brought about by the practical consideration that only children can realistically perform children's roles required in the entertainment and information industry. In both exceptions, the employment should neither endanger the child's life, safety, health, morals, and normal development, nor prejudice the child's education. It is also mandatory for the employers to first secure for the child a work permit from the Department of Labour and Employment before the child can even begin to work.

     To date, despite the series of amendments to the past laws on child labour, the present state policies and legislation governing the protection and promotion of the rights of child workers still remain scattered among the different laws of the country. This chapter attempts to present all these laws in a manner that will assist the reader in better understanding the legal protection available to the country's child workers.


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