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Meet Enrico and Danica, child workers

HARD LIFE. Kids sifting through garbage.

Photo courtesy of ILO

MANILA, Philippines - Enrico is only 13 years old, but until a few months ago he was working alongside adults collecting and sifting through garbage at a dumpsite near the slum where he grew up in Tondo, Manila.

Danica is 16 and wandered the roads after she ran away from an employer who would beat her and refuse to pay her a salary as a maid.

Both are former victims of child labor, which affects about 5.5 million out of 29 million Filipino children, according to the 2011 Survey on Children released by the National Statistics Office (NSO), the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the U.S. Department of Labor released on Tuesday, June 26.

On the same day, the ILO launched its new Batang Malaya campaign for a Child Labor Free Philippines with the goal of ending the worst forms of child labor in the country by 2016.

Of the 5.5 million working children, almost 3 million are engaged in hazardous child labor, defined by the ILO as "being likely to harm the children's health, safety or morals by the nature or circumstances of the work."

Working on a dumpsite

Enrico would normally get up at 4 a.m. to collect garbage with his elder brother until 10 a.m., when both would go home to start segregating and choosing the scraps they could sell for a daily total of P200 or P300.

After that, the two children would be so exhausted they would just have a bath and rest until the following day.

Most of the little money Enrico made would go to his mother so she could buy food, but he told Rappler he always tried to keep a fraction to pay his school tuition.

"Mahirap po. Kasi po ano eh, gigising pa po ako ng maaga, tapos mangunguha, (It is hard. We have to wake up early just to collect)" said Enrico, who would cycle on a rickety bike for two hours just to get from Tondo to the dumpsite in Tamuyan and then ride back again in the afternoon.

He dreams of becoming a teacher for other poor kids like himself.

Abused, unpaid by employer

An orphan originally from Davao, Danica was hired a few months ago to work in a store in Manila, but she ended up as a domestic helper and her employer would submit her to physical and verbal abuse if she complained about working for long hours without a break.

"Yung masasakit po na salita. Tsaka yung mga kasama namin binubugbog sila. (They abused us verbally. And they were beating up our companions)" the girl said.

After a month, she couldn't take it anymore and decided to leave.

"Na-realize ko po na iba na po yung maltrato nila sa amin. Tsaka sinasaktan na po kami tsaka di na po kami sinasahuran. (I realized that they were maltreating us. They were hurting us and they weren’t giving us our salaries)", Danica told Rappler.

She wandered the roads and was finally picked up by a concerned individual who brought her to a shelter, where her life changed. They told her that child labor is illegal.

"Ang pangarap ko po sa buhay ay maging isang guro po. Kasi gusto ko pong matulungan yung mga tao tsaka yung mga bata na walang alam, kung pano magsulat, pano magbasa. Tsaka ipapaalam ko po sa kanila yung tungkol sa child labor po. (I aspire to be a teacher. Because I want to help those people and children who don’t know much, how to write, how to read. And I will tell them about child labor.)"

New data

Enrico and Danica are among many child workers in the country.

The survey released by the NSO, the ILO and the U.S. Department of Labor was the first national survey on child labor since 2001, with interesting results.

According to the new data, there are 5.5 million working children in the Philippines, up from 4 million in 2001 - when the last previous survey was conducted - and 3.6 million in 1995.

However, the 3 organizations which compiled the statistics warned that previous results are not strictly comparable to the latest findings as the latter included forms of child labor not stipulated under Republic Act 9231, which only considers the worst forms of juvenile employment.

And although more comprehensive, the 2011 survey still cannot estimate children trafficked for work, forced and bonded child labor, commercial sexual exploitation of minors and use of kids in illicit activities and armed conflict.

Tackle roots of the problem

Lawrence Jeff Johnson, country director for the ILO in the Philippines, noted that "we have to get to the root of child labor which is linked with poverty and lack of decent and productive work."

At the same time, the official stressed in a statement that "we need to ensure decent and productive work for parents and basic social protection for families" so the kids will stay in school and not be made to work.

"What is crucial now is to tackle and to monitor progress in reducing child labor on a regular basis," Johnson said.

"There really has to be shift in how people think," explained Giovanni Soledad, project manager on Elimination of Child Labor for the ILO in the Philippines.

Soledad told Rappler that "maybe due to the poverty of the families or the need of employers to make more profit, there is this certain level of acceptability of the problem, thereby making it a little bit invisible, acceptable, tolerating" child labor.

"This has to change. People have to recognize that this is illegal, a crime and a danger to the lives of these children and to their future," he said.

Soledad added that the Batang Malaya campaign wants to disseminate throughout the country the key message that child labor is "detrimental to the lives of the children and to their future, and thereby to the future of the country." - Rappler.com

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