Child labor persists in SouthCot’s mining areas

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/8 Oct) – Cases of child labor have persisted in the last several months in small-scale mining areas in T’boli town in South Cotabato despite a ban imposed by the local government on the employment of children or minors in mining activities in the area.

Chona Mantilla, Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) Region 12 director, said Monday they uncovered during a recent assessment of the mining activities at the gold rush village of Kematu in T’boli that a number of mining operators in the area have continued to employ minors for their operations.

She said the current pool of child laborers reportedly come from areas outside of Barangay Kematu, which passed a resolution and an ordinance last May that sets the elimination and prohibition of the deployment of minors and under age children within the village’s mining sites.

The measure, which was endorsed by the local government of T’boli, called for the full enforcement of such prohibition in the area.

“They (mining operators) resorted to hiring transient and visiting child workers or laborers from neighboring villages because of the ban,” Mantilla.

The Barangay Council of Kematu earlier passed the measure to put an end to the long-time practice of local mining financiers and operators of illegally employing minors for their operations.

Barangay Kematu was earlier identified by DOLE central office as among the eight villages in Region 12 that were considered as “child labor areas.”

The other areas were barangays Malire of Antipas, Cadungon and Saguing of Makilala, Presbitero of Pigkawayan, all in North Cotabato as well as barangays Lagao, San Isidro and City Heights in this city.

The Provincial Council for the Protection of Children (PCPC) of South Cotabato had documented 64 minors who were recruited and employed by mining operators in Kematu.

The council, which is backed by DOLE and the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), said the child laborers in the area worked as “abanteros,” packers and haulers in small-scale mining projects.

A number of minors reportedly worked in “banlas” or sluice mining operations, a method deemed illegal by the provincial government due to its destructive effect on the environment.

To address the renewed child labor cases in the area, Mantilla said they are set to expand their ongoing advocacy campaigns against child labor in the area.

She said they would also engage with local authorities and stakeholders to push for the strict enforcement of the ban among local mining operators.

Mantilla said that as part of their advocacy campaign, the agency has partnered with local government units and the private sector to provide livelihood assistance to parents of the child laborers.

“We will engage with the parents of these child laborers since it’s their primary responsibility to take care of their children and make sure that they are in school instead of working in these dangerous conditions,” she said.

Mantilla said their advocacy drive would also focus on addressing the cultural aspect of the problem, specifically the tradition of going into early marriages of the T’boli tribal folks.

“Some of them would marry at the age of 14 or 16, forcing to find work and get employed in jobs that are only fit for adults,” she added. (Allen V. Estabillo / MindaNews)