The labor department has assisted close to 340,000 minors, along with their families, in an intensified implementation of the government’s child labor prevention and elimination program amid the Covid 19 pandemic, the agency said on Friday.

Children and young workers are considered among the most vulnerable as the health crisis persist to affect the livelihood of mostly poor families in urban and rural areas.

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said given the government restrictions to contain the spread of the virus, the labor department profiled around 274,924 child laborers. On top of this figure, he said, about 293,318 were referred for assistance while more than 47,000 were removed from child labor.

“Along with our campaign to protect the vulnerable workers, we also stepped up our efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labor,” Bello said, citing DOLE’s mandate under Republic Act No. 9231 or the Special Protection of Children against Child Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act.

He noted that the pandemic has drawn children of poor families into some worst forms of child labor. “This is indeed unfortunate. This is why we had to work doubly hard to arrest the situation,” the labor chief added.

Underscoring DOLE’s effective child labor prevention and elimination program, Bello cited the recent experience of one of the young beneficiaries as a good example.

Joseph (not his real name), 14, from San Fernando, Romblon, is an orphan living with his grandmother. He used to gather and sell firewood and worked extra as a baggage boy for fish traders.

In a report to Bello, DOLE MIMAROPA Director Joffrey Suyao said Joseph was awarded a P30,000 sari-sari store package along with his grandmother. They made good on their assistance and Joseph is now enrolled as a first-year student at the Romblon State University taking up Bachelor of Science in Business Administration.

“The boy has been freed from hazardous work. We hope that this simple livelihood assistance help him attain his dreams,” Suyao said in his report.

Joseph vowed to make the most out of the livelihood package, and promised to do his best with the opportunity to get a better education, the report added.

The DOLE child labor prevention and elimination program consists of Project Angel Tree which provides an array of social services for the child laborers and their families, and the H.E.L.P. M.E. program, which stands for health services and medical assistance; education and training; livelihood opportunities to parents of child laborers; prevention, protection, and prosecution; monitoring; and evaluation.

The labor department also implements the Child Labor-Free Establishments, Sagip Batang Manggagawa, and Philippine Program against Child Labor.

END/GSR with a report from Sarah Jane B. Ferranco