DAVAO CITY – Most sixteen-year-olds should have been in the fourth year of their high school this school year, or in Grade 10 in the current Kindergarten plus 12 years of basic education.
But this is not the case for John Rey.
At 16, John Rey is still entering his first year in a public secondary school in Panacan, or Grade 7 under the K-12 program.
The reason was, he skipped school at the young age of eight, to spend the next three years in a fertilizer factory with ten other boys.
He said he decided to work to help his parents sustain the needs of the family, where five other siblings survive on a meager income from their mother who does laundry and their father who does odd jobs.
While his work pays him around P150 to P300 a day, John Rey decided to quit work. Aside from back-breaking lifting of fertilizer sacks, he said the company did not provide him and other boys health services.
“We just buy a bottle of Cobra (a popular energy drink); the company did not give us medicines,” the boy said.
He said he felt the need to catch up with his friends and former classmates who were then close to finish grade school. Hence, he got back on track.
The case of John Rey is just one the hundreds of child workers existing in a place touted as “a child friendly city”. the non-government organization Kaugmaon (Future) for Children’s Rights and Social Development said.
The Kaugmaon has been monitoring child labor cases in a special program for the the past two years for the International Labor Organization.
Their program monitoring covers the four barangays of Ilang, Panacan, Tibungco and Callawa. It said it coordinates the search and identification of child laborers with the barangay councils on child protection, and disclosed it has listed 383 cases.
Davao City’s Social Services and Development Office reported a lower 264 cases in the city. The reported listed 187 boys and 77 girls, mostly working as quarriers, venders, scavengers, charcoal (oling) workers and trisikad drivers.
Despite the difference in the number, Kaugmaon’s executive director, Florie Tacang, said this is a positive attitude from the government unlike in the past when it had denied the problem.
She said the Kaugmaon also attended a consultation last Monday with the Department of Social Welfare and Development on the latter’s Pantawid Pamilya Program implementation, where they discussed coordination on monitoring child workers.
She said other agencies have reported of child labor cases prevailing outside their areas, including one in a banana processing plant in Bunawan.
While Philippine labor law pegs the lowest working age at 15 years old, Tacang said industries and factories have practiced the kabo” system, which tap a labor contractor to hire groups of workers, including children, to do the side jobs on a daily or weekly basis such as the ones John Rey took part.
Hence, there is no clear worker-employer relationship in this set-up, allowing factories and companies to skip on legal liability, Tacang said.
“Actually, government agencies know this is happening. We have been referring these cases we monitored, and it is up to them to act on these,” she said.
But the Department of Labor Regional Director Jeffrey Suyao said in a separate interview that their agency have yet to receive complaints of child labor practices.
Another official, labor arbitrer Attorney Elbert Restauro, said however, that “even verbal agreements between employers and child workers could become proof of exploiting of child labor”.
“it’s not dependent on a written contract, it depends on the service of existence rendered by the worker,” he said.
Suyao added that if such cases would be brought to their attention, they would coordinate with the Department of Justice to study legal actions against the company and with the Department of Social Welfare Department to intervene, or rescue the children.
Meanwhile, Tacang said that parents and society in general have often viewed children working at an early age as a “normal” thing.
“It’s common to look at child workers as beneficial for children to learn life skills. But we don’t see that society has to help them and their parents as well. There should be support to children from the government like John Rey such as providing scholarships and other social support,” said Tacang.
Groups catering to child rights, such as Kaugmaon, have expressed concern about the likelihood of more children getting into the child labor arena as unemployment has risen to double digits in the past yearst
Tacang said Kaugmaon has provided intervention with the help of barangay officials such as livelihood projects and education seminars to parents to ease the burden on children to support the families.
“We talk to parents and let them understand that this support would not be here all the time, and that they have to make sure they can give time to see their children to be in school,” she said.
Her group would be calling more attention to this issue with a march rally on the World Day Against Child Labor on June 12, which happens to be the country’s Independence Day.
She said around a thousand child advocates, former and present child workers together with representatives from the International Labor Organization (ILO) would join a march from Rizal Park to Freedom Park. (davaotoday.com)