On a cool rainy morning in July, “Scarlett” smilingly invited three market goers to buy fish, squid and sea shells at the Baguio City Market Fish Section. One of the customers’ is a cook at one of the popular night bars along Naguilian Road pretended to show interest in the girl’s sea products, asking the price while he was fixing her with an unblinking gaze and touching her hand.

“Aliyah”, 15 years old, confidently sells candies, sweets, soft drinks and bottled water by herself on the street to make more income after her class.

Meet Scarlett and Aliyah, child workers. Scarlett is only 14 years old would normally get up at 4 a.m. and works alongside adults selling sea products with her widowed mother. Aliyah lives with her fathers’ sister family. Her dad is in jail for drug offenses.

Both are victims of child labor, which affects about 5.5 million child laborers aged  5 – 17 in the Philippines out of 29 million Filipino children. There are currently around 2.1 million of whom are exposed to environments that are considered hazardous.

As of press time, there are Children working in farms and plantations, in dangerous mines, on streets, in factories, and in private homes as child domestic workers. Agriculture remains to be the sector where most child laborers can be found at 58 per cent.

One must understand the difference of child labor from child work. Child work is light work. This means that children learn to take responsibility; respects rights to health and education; occasional and is legal while child labor is hazardous work and exploitative; deprivation of rights to health and education of children; constant and for long   hours and is illegal.

A working child is a child below 18 years of age who performs work or economic activity that is not child labor; also is a child below 15 years of age who works directly under the responsibility of his/her parents or legal guardian and where only members of the child’s family are employed; or in public entertainment or information.

In simple terms, the law says “No child below the age of 15 shall be employed, permitted or suffered to work, in any public or private undertaking” and “No child below 18 years old shall be engaged in the worst forms of child labor; or used as model in any advertisement promoting alcoholic beverages,   intoxicating drinks, tobacco and its byproducts, gambling or any form of violence and pornography.

Scarlett and Aliyah  both are in the work situation where  they are  forced  to  work and prematurely leave school depriving their opportunity to get formal education, or when children  are  required  to  combine  schooling and  working  at  the  same  time  (ILO,  2014).  Further, child labor occurs when children are exposed to mental, physical, social and moral harm and danger.

Until the present, child labor remains a great cause of concern among governments and international organizations particularly in  developing  countries,  like  the  Philippines, where  many  children  are  exposed  to impoverished  living  conditions  and deficient  social  welfare.  There  are  types  of  child employment  activities  that  are  not considered harmful and, in fact, contribute to  children’s  positive  development  since they  don’t  stop  children  from  attending school.    These  are  activities  involving children helping their  parents  at  home on domestic  chores,  and  helping  out  in  the family  business  during  holidays  and vacations.

Child labor is one of the pressing issues that need to be addressed the soonest possible time.   This issue naturally co-exists and goes together with poverty. What makes this issue worse is the vulnerability of children to further neglect.   The  inability  of  these  children to accumulate  knowledge  might  result  in  a future Filipino  labor  force  that  is  deficient in skills and competencies.

The  cost  of  education  is  often considered  to  be hindrance in  getting  the children  in  the  school  and  out  of workplaces.    Even  if  there  are  public schools,  more  often  than  not,  families would  still  have  to  shell out  considerable amounts for their children’s transportation, food  and  school  supplies.

The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) has strengthened its commitment of achieving a child-labor free Philippines as it pushes for more inclusive and preventive interventions in combatting child labor and its worst forms.

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said DOLE has so far profiled 85,582 child laborers in 16 regions of which 18,651 were referred to appropriate agencies for the provision of services and assistance needed by the children and their families. Profiling of the child laborers is our strategic way of withdrawing children from child labor. We must first assess their needs and refer these children and their families to appropriate agencies and organizations for the provision of necessary assistance to remove them from child labor.

In the Cordilleras, the DOLE Regional Office has profiled 2,085 children and have been provided with assistance thru  DOLE’ s “Project Angel Tree”, “Lapis Papel At iba pa” and “the gift of hope” in partnership with government agencies, NGO’s, LGU’s, companies, establishments  and private individuals. The children are located in the different provinces of the Cordillera — Abra, 341; Apayao, 312; Baguio, 341; Benguet, 341; Ifugao, 126; Kalinga, 312 and Mountain Province, 312.

“Project Angel Tree”, “lapis papel at iba pa and “the gift of hope”  is an opportunity for us to share and give happiness to another disadvantaged sector of our society – the children who are forced by circumstances to work and earn a living to support themselves and their families.

These projects are an attempt to improve the economic and social conditions of child laborers and their families and increase allies and advocates of child labor elimination. Patrons and supporters of the project are symbolically represented by an angel tree bearing a broad array of services that shall be made available to child laborers and their families. The labor department shall serve as a broker between those wanting assistance and those willing to extend the needed assistance. Most of the children wished for educational assistance like back packs, notes books, pen, crayons, paper among others while some want livelihood assistance and medical services for the sick members of their family.

Interested groups and individuals wanting to know and grant the wishes of the child laborers may visit

visit us at DOLE-CAR Building, Cabinet Hill, Baguio City or call us at 074 – 443-5338.

END/Patrick Rillorta