DAET - Campaigners against child labor in the Philippines have enlisted kids liberated from exploitation in an effort to eradicate the problem by 2025, as part of global movement kicked off by world leaders three years ago when they adopted a set of sustainable development goals.
Some 50 children who used to perform hazardous labor were gathered together last week in Daet, capital of Camarines Norte province in the southern part of Luzon island, to discuss the issue ahead of World Day Against Child Labor, which falls on June 12.
For two days, the kids participated in seminars and workshops where they were informed of their basic rights, discouraged from going back to hard labor and encouraged to realize their ambitions through education.
The event was organized by the International Labor Organization, the Philippine government's labor and social welfare departments and some nongovernmental organizations.
Arleen Taguba, an officer of ILO-Philippines, told Kyodo News the event was held "to mobilize all the stakeholders at the local level, to bring to them the issue of child labor, especially in the mining areas that we are assisting."
"We wanted the children, the child laborers to feel that all the stakeholders are there for them, to give them all the support they need," she said.
In 2015, world leaders adopted the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, comprising 17 interrelated goals and 169 associated targets to guide global development. One of them was to end child labor "in all its forms" by 2025.
The term "child labor," as distinguished from "child work," involves work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development.
Based a 2011 Philippine government survey, there were 2.1 million child laborers aged 5-17 years old in the country. The ILO estimates there are 156 million such kids across the globe, according to Ma. Concepcion Sarana of ILO-Philippines.
The top two regions with the most child laborers were Central Luzon, a group of provinces immediately north of Manila, with 10.5 percent, and Bicol, the region of southern Luzon that includes Camarines Norte, with 10.4 percent.
Since the Philippines passed an anti-child labor law in 2003, various government agencies have also been implementing specific projects, some of them in collaboration with the ILO.
One such project of the Department of Social Welfare and Development is called SHIELD, which is short for Strategic Helpdesks for Information, Education, Livelihood and Other Developmental Interventions for Child Laborers.
The project, currently in its pilot stage, is designed to address some of the worst forms of child labor, like at mining sites or in firework factories, by documenting these cases, and then consolidating efforts of government, the private sector and NGOs at the community level to eradicate the problem.
So far in its implementation in Camarines Norte, 264 cases of child labor have been validated and 102 children were rescued from mining activities, most now receiving educational assistance.
Complementing SHIELD is the ILO's CARING Gold Mining Project that aims to address both the child labor problem and poor working conditions in artisanal and small-scale gold mining operations.
BAN Toxics, an NGO that campaigns against the use of mercury in gold extraction activities in mines, is helping implement that project by helping miners become legally and environmentally compliant.
On May 31, ILO and BAN Toxics officials visited the mining village of Malaya in Camarines Norte's Labo municipality to assess progress in the project's implementation there.
"Barangay Malaya is really a success story. The awareness was there among all the constituents from the community, starting from the mining associations that were mobilized through our project," ILO's Taguba said.
"The first time we visited Barangay Malaya was in March 2017. It was really devastated. The river is milky white because of mercury. The pits are everywhere due to mining. You can see mercury everywhere."
"But after the interventions...we saw that the community really rehabilitated the area," she said.
Village official Herminigildo Tonga said efforts are being made to ensure children no longer work at the mining sites.
To encourage them to go to school instead of engaging in gold extraction activities, classes for Grade 7 students will be offered at the local school starting this month, he said.
"Children work at mining sites because the high school campus is too far, and the parents cannot afford to send them there because transportation cost is too high for them," Tonga said.
"This will be a solution to child labor. They don't need to spend much because it's here. They can come to school, and then go home for lunch, or even during recess."
ILO's Sardana noted that "efforts to reduce (the number of child laborers in the Philippines) are continuing, and here in Camarines Norte, we see the convergence of these efforts."
Marilyn Moral of the Department of Social Welfare and Development said the pullout of 102 children from the child labor situation in Camarines Norte is a humble step towards achieving the country's goal of eradicating the problem by 2025, if not earlier.
But Sardana warned that a new generation of child laborers may just replace those who have been withdrawn because poverty, which is the root cause of the problem, remains prevalent in the country.
"So your advocacy, the information sharing, the campaign have to be pushed through and institutionalized through regular programs. And we're just glad that there are already regularized programs that help address the situation of families to lift them out of poverty," she said.
At the closing of the program on May 30, representatives from miners' associations that include financiers, as well as village and municipal officials, gave their commitment to eradicate child labor in their respective communities. They were also joined by parents of former child laborers.
"We have to join forces to end child labor, and ensure a healthy workplace for our young workers," Regional Labor Officer Rovelinda dela Rosa said.