Bukidnon’s agri sector top employers of child labor – survey

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/1 Dec) – The agriculture sector, specifically sugar and corn, are the top employers of child labor in the province, according to baseline survey commissioned for the International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labor (IPEC), a program funded by the International Labor Organization.

About 70 percent of the children said that they work in exploitative conditions because they need to support their family, according to Giovanni Soledad, IPEC program coordinator, in his presentation to reporters Wednesday.

The survey was conducted in relation to Bukidnon’s inclusion to the IPEC’s four demonstration areas. The other three provinces are Masbate, Northern Samar, and Quezon.

In Bukidnon, the survey focused only on four areas identified for the IPEC, namely, the cities of Malaybalay and Valencia and the municipalities of Quezon and Maramag.

In those areas, surveyors found 1,632 child laborers, with 66 percent boys and 34 percent girls. Half of the identified child laborers belong to ages 15 to 17, about 46 percent in the 10-to-14 age bracket, and the remaining 4 percent are aged 5 to 9.

About 45 percent of the child laborers are out of school. For those in school, the average absence in class was placed at four times a month.

Those who couldn’t go to school cited “can’t afford to go to school” as reason.

Soledad told reporters they intend to do progressive elimination of child labor with priority on the worst areas.

According to Republic Act 9231, child labor is any work or economic activity performed by a child that subjects her or him to any form of exploitation or is harmful to his or her health, safety or physical, mental, or psychological development. The goal of the Philippine Program Against Child Labor (PPACL), Soledad added, is to eliminate worst forms of child labor by 75 percent by 2015.

He cited that IPEC interventions include education services for children, parent effectiveness seminars, child labor monitoring and integrated referral system, community-based monitoring system (CBMS) and local development planning, vocational course on sugar farming technology, and development of a Code of Conduct for the Sugar Industry to include anti-child labor policies.

But Soledad said the centerpiece of the program is Local Economic Development and pro-poor livelihood opportunities. He said the major cause of child labor is poverty with parents having low income and who needed their children to augment their income.

But Danilo Braza, program coordinator of the Sugar Industry Foundation, Inc. (SIFI), said they are counting on the education of children as a long term solution to poverty.

SIFI, the social arm of the sugar industry, groups about 70 percent of the sugar planters associations in the Philippines.

He said the group supports about 200 college students for assistance and full scholarships in Mindanao.

But he admitted that they are only reaching a “drop in the bucket” of child laborers in the country who need support for their education. (Walter I. Balane / MindaNews)