Baguio City – I met a former fighter. She was a child. A few years ago, a young farm girl “Hannah” (not her real name) overheard her parents talking to a group of decent young men and women and their village chief. They were offering to give her free education and training in the absence of formal schooling. It is a common practice in communities to organize group activities for children especially when there are visitors who offer help. It was a privilege a poor family would not pass up, especially if the offer came from friends of a respected elder in their village.

“Pangarap ng pamilya ko na makapag-aral ako,” (It is my family’s dream that I could study),” said Hannah. With her parents blessing, she joined the group. After a month into the lessons, they gave her rifle and taught her how to shoot.

Hannah agreed to talk because she doesn’t want more children to experience being a child soldier. Something happened that changed her life and made her realize the teachings of the armed group were wrong. We are withholding these details to protect her identity.

A child soldier is defined as having an association with an armed force or armed group, recruited or used by the said organization in any capacity, including but not limited to children, boys and girls, used as fighters, cooks, porters, spies or for sexual purposes.

The worst forms of child labor include all forms of slavery as defined in the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003, including recruitment of children for use in armed conflict; prostitution or pornography; illegal or illicit activities, including production and trafficking of dangerous drugs or volatile substances and work which is hazardous or likely to be harmful to the health, safety or morals of children.

President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered the creation of the National Council against Child Labor to strengthen government efforts for the protection of children’s rights. In Executive Order 92, signed Sept. 17, the President reorganized the National Child Labor Committee which was created through a memorandum of agreement between various government agencies in 2011 as part of the Philippine Program Against Child Labor (PPACL) initiative.

The newly-created council will be chaired by the secretary of the Department of Labor and Employment and co-chaired by the secretary of the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

The members of the council are the secretaries of the Department of Education, Department of Health, Department of the Interior and Local Government, Department of Justice, Department of Agriculture, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, National Commission on Muslim Filipinos;

Directors-general of the National Economic and Development Authority, Philippine Information Agency, Technical Education and Skills Development Authority;

Executive director of the Council for the Welfare of Children; chairperson of the National Youth Commission; chairperson of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples; national statistician of the Philippine Statistics Authority; police director general of the Philippine National Police; director of the National Bureau of Investigation; sectoral Representative of the Basic Sector on Children, National Antipoverty Commission; and two representatives from the employers’ sector and non-government organizations.

EO 92 directs the council to formulate a framework, national action plan, and programs for the effective enforcement of Republic Act 7610 or the Special Protection of Children against Abuses, Exploitation and Discrimination Act.

The presidential order likewise tasked the council to create technical working groups anchored on the strategic directions of the PPACL framework and also for the creation of regional and local councils for the protection of children or related structures.

In reporting a child labor incidence, the council shall establish and widely disseminate a mechanism by which the general public can easily report child labor incidence to government authorities such as any member of the barangay council for the protection of children, the local social welfare and development office of the municipality, city or province, DSWD, DOLE, and law enforcement agencies.

EO 92 has instructed all government agencies to support and assist the National Council against Child Labor in fulfilling its mandate.

In the Cordillera, the DOLE regional office has initiatives against child labor. One of which is the Sagip Batang Manggagawa (Rescue the Child Laborers), an inter-agency quick action mechanism which aims to respond to cases of child laborers in extremely abject conditions.

The SBM employs an inter-agency quick action team for detecting, monitoring, and rescuing child laborers in hazardous and exploitative working conditions. It is composed of the DOLE, DSWD, and law enforcement agencies as core members.

It also has the Livelihood Assistance to Parents of Child Laborers, a strategic response to prevent and eliminate child labor. The assistance can be in the form of negokart, starter kits, or materials needed to start a livelihood undertaking.

Beneficiaries of livelihood programs of the DOLE should not allow their children to be engaged in child labor.

Project Angel Tree aims to provide an array of social services that range from food, clothing, or school supplies made available by sponsors or benefactors or “angels” to child laborers and their families.

A working child permit is secured by the employer, parent or guardian from the DOLE before any child below 15 years old can be engaged in public entertainment or information.

END/Patrick T Rillorta