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PHILIPPINES: Pulling Children Out of the Tunnel of Hard Labour

Kara Santos

MANILA, Apr 14 2011 (IPS) - At the tender age of 10, Rodel Morozco was working in a goldmine and crawling inside tunnels, until one day he fell 200 feet underground because his father had blasted the tunnel with dynamite.

A child works by a mine in the Philippines. Credit:

A child works by a mine in the Philippines. Credit:

“I had to run and get out but it was too dark,” said Morozco, who worked the mines in Camarines Norte province in Bicol, one of the Philippines’ poorest regions. “I felt so miserable, and then I realised that I did not like what I was doing. I just wanted to go back to school.”

Now 25, Morozco managed to overcome adversity as a child labourer by finishing his education, courtesy of a scholarship from the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

“The scholarship gave me a chance to leave the dark tunnel,” Morozco said during a press conference organised by the ILO. “When I graduated, I dreamt of finding a decent job and helping other children to get out of child labour.”

There are at least 2.4 million Filipino children going through what Morozco experienced 15 years ago, says ILO country director Lawrence Jeff Johnson, citing data from the Philippine Labour Force Survey as of April 2010. ILO estimates there were 215 million child labourers globally in 2010.

The number of Filipino child workers has decreased from the four million aged 5 to 17 engaged in economic activity during the period October 2000 to September 2001, according to the Philippines’ National Statistics Office (NSO) and ILO’s Survey on Children in 2001.

But many more child labourers are prone to end up as dropouts. “Children that combine work with school often drop out, as child labour interferes with their learning. And children who have poor access to education often work to meet immediate family needs, and for lack of a better alternative,” said Johnson.

ILO data reveals that the dropout rate for elementary students in the Philippines has increased over the last three years, rising from an average 5.99 percent from 2007 to 2008 to 6.28 percent in 2009 to 2010.

Johnson also pointed out that the global economic crisis had an impact on efforts to reduce poverty globally, and increased vulnerable employment.

“The root cause is still poverty,” says Lourdes Trasmonte, undersecretary of the Department of Labour and Employment (DOLE). “Children are brought in to work because that is the only asset the family has.”

More than 18,000 children, mostly aged 10 to 14 years old, work in the mining and quarrying industries alone in the Philippines, according to NSO data.

Aside from being exposed to dust and mercury-based chemicals in mines, which can cause serious brain damage, child labourers in the mining industry often become stunted as a result of carrying excessively heavy loads.

Morozco said he toiled eight to 12 hours everyday as a child labourer. When not inside a tunnel, he was under the heat of the sun, his back bent sifting sand and rock for gold in a heavy wooden pan, using toxic mercury. This he did in the river, which is why his hands were soaked in muddy water every day.

“I was so tired, so weak since I had to work at night and go to school the next day,” said Morozco, who had nine other siblings. “I reached a point where in I had to work full time when my parents could not afford to send me to school any more.”

Other hazardous forms of child labour include deep-sea fishing, work in the pyrotechnics industry and plantations, domestic help and the flesh trade.

The plantation sector is said to have the highest number of child labourers at over two million, of which 1.4 million are below 15 years old, according to the NSO.

In 2001, the agriculture industry employed about 2.3 million or 60 percent of the total number of working children 5 to 17 years old, according to NSO and ILO statistics.

In 2010, the Philippine Government issued a Progress Report on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which found that poverty and education are two key areas where the country is not making enough headway. The Progress Report warned that the Philippines was unlikely to achieve universal access to elementary education (MDG2) if factors such as child labour were not tackled.

To curb the worst forms of child labour, including slavery and commercial sexual exploitation, ILO has been working with government agencies such as the DOLE.

ILO’s project, the International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC), seeks to remove children caught in the worst forms of employment by providing their parents with the opportunity to earn and support other members of the family with alternative sources of income.

“If the parents have work and social services are accessible to them, the children can be removed from child labour,” DOLE’s Trasmonte told media.

IPEC projects areas include the agricultural province of Quezon, where the Department of Education is deploying “mobile teachers” in remote areas to educate children who stop schooling during the harvest season. In Bukidnon, a province known for its sugar plantations, IPEC will set up a community school for indigenous and tribal peoples.

Morozco himself escaped the fate of other child labourers, after becoming a child advocate at an ILO summer youth camp ten years ago. Through an IPEC endorsement, he got a full scholarship from high school to college, where he took a computer programming course.

Now working as a staff member for a senator in Manila, Morozco still regularly goes back to his hometown to speak out against child labour.

“If we allow children to work, then they will remain uneducated. If child labourers do not get a chance to return to school, then nothing will happen to this country because they are the future of this nation,” Morozco said.

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