MANILA, Philippines – In tears, 14-year-old Jeraldine Macapar Aboy asks why indigenous children like her have become child laborers.
There is silence in the crowd as she shares her story.
Aboy spoke in a forum Wednesday, January 28, where a study was presented showing one in 5 Filipino households tolerates child labor in plantations and mines.
Six rural communities across the Philippines were surveyed, underlining the imminent need to raise the bar for enforcing anti-child labor mechanisms in place.
As young as 8 years old, Aboy worked in one of the sugar plantations in her province.
She is part of the Bukidnon tribal group Manobo Pulangihon, and told Rappler all of the child laborers in the plantation are from her ethnic group.
"We had debts to pay to the plantation owner," she said in her speech delivered in the vernacular, explaining that she was forced to take the place of her father who was made weak by a liver disease.
Cesar Giovanni Soledad, project manager at the International Labor Organization (ILO) in Manila, underscored "the lack of decent work for the parents" as one of the main push factors of child labor.
The communities surveyed include Malayo, Labo in Camarines Norte, Mt Diwata, Monkayo in Compostella Valley, Napoles, Bago City in Negros Occidental, Manat, Trento in Agusan del Sur, San Nicolas, Don Carlos in Bukidnon, and Pantaron, Sto Tomas in Davao del Norte.
73% of those surveyed who tolerate child labor said they are aware of the children's rights but have minors in the family work to raise the household income.
In the plantation where Aboy worked, she told Rappler she engaged in hard labor including digging with tools almost as tall as her, burning wood, and planting crops.
When she was wounded from working, her medical needs were not attended to. Her 16-year-old uncle who also worked in the plantation simply gave her some herbs to help heal the wound.
"It is important that dissuasive penalties are imposed in practice on persons who subject children to work in hazardous or exploitative conditions," said EU Ambassador Guy Ledoux during the forum.
The study was conducted by the Ecumenical Institute for Labour Education and Research Inc (EILER) and the Quidan Kaisahan (QK), both EU-funded local partners.
There are 5.5 million children in the Philippines engaged in labor, including permissible work for children, said Soledad, citing 2011 state figures.
A recently released US report likewise listed 13 Philippine goods believed to be produced through child labor. (READ: Child labor seen in 13 PH goods – US report)
The EILER-QK study also showed that landlessness contributed to the push behind child labor, with 77.7% of those surveyed not owning or having access to land.
Children continue to work in dangerous environments with no or limited protective equipment, the study revealed. (READ: Negligence, child labor seen in Bulacan warehous accident)
In Mt Diwata, where children worked inside tunnels, the child laborers are kept awake with the use of illegal drugs.
EILER executive director Anna Leah Escresa-Colina explained that the drugs are even bought by the workers from their employers.
As kids forced to live adult lives, the children bear long hours of work in exchange for very low wages.
48% of the child laborers covered by the survey receive P130 to 150 a day. In mines, 50% are paid below P100 a day. In plantations, not a single child worker would receive P200 for a day's work. A majority of them work 6 times a week, and most of them toil for 10 hours a day.
"Worse, child labor, especially in plantations and mines, provide no means by which the children and their families may escape the vicious cycle of generational poverty," the study said.
Colina explained that a high school in every barangay is extremely needed to combat child labor.
76.1% of those surveyed have stopped attending school.
Commission on Human Rights Chairperson Loretta Ann Rosales said there are enough laws to fight the menace of child labor but implementation is key.
In the Philippines, employing a child laborer in hazardous work is a crime punishable under Republic Act (RA) 9231, which seeks to eliminate the worst forms of child labor in the country, and RA 7610, which grants special protection for children against abuse, exploitation, and discrimination.
Those guilty of child labor could face a fine ranging from P100,000 to P1 million or imprisonment from 12 years and one day to 20 years or both, depending on the court's verdict. – Rappler.com