“Hundreds of millions of girls and boys throughout the world are engaged in work that deprives them of adequate education, health, leisure and basic freedoms, violating their rights. Of these children, more than half are exposed to the worst forms of child labour such as work in hazardous environments, slavery, or other forms of forced labor, illicit activities such as drug trafficking and prostitution, as well as involvement in armed conflict.” (Text taken from International Labor Organization (ILO) website)

After the tumult and uncertainty unleashed by the Covid-19 crisis in 2020, this mid-year signals hope and resolve. The global theme for this year’s World Day Against Child Labor (WDACL) celebration is “ Act now to End Child Labor “which focuses on the actions being undertaken for the 2021 International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour to accelerate progress for the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal Target set to end child labor in its all forms by 2025.

Every year since 2002, the Philippines joins in the international observance of WDACL in the month of June to raise awareness on the plight of child laborers and to demonstrate the country’s solidarity in the worldwide campaign against child labor. The theme for the Philippine celebration of 2021 WDACL is  ”Makibahagi, Makialam, at Magkaisa para sa Batang Malaya”.

Sadly, the impact and length of the COVID-19 pandemic and how different people will act remain unclear. But some of the results is already obvious. The pandemic has increased economic insecurity, dislocated supply chains and has affected businesses. Employers decided to close their businesses, some establishment retrenched employees or reduced the number of working days of their employees and others hire young people to work because they accept wages below minimum. Others simply wait for the financial assistance from the national government even if they have already received assistance from the Local Government Units. Public budgets are draining up to provide financial assistance.

When these and other factors result in losses in household income, family expectations is that children need to contribute financially. More children could be forced into exploitative and hazardous jobs and those already working may do so for longer hours or under worsening conditions. Gender inequalities may grow more acute within families, with girls expected to perform extra household chores and in the provinces work in farms. Temporary school closures may aggravate these leanings, as households look for new ways to allocate children’s time.

The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), the lead agency that strongly upholds the rights of children including the protection of children from all forms of abuse, neglect, cruelty, exploitation and discrimination, and other conditions prejudicial to their development, particularly child labor at its worst forms.

The vulnerability of children to abuse and exploitation, there is a need for the DOLE to strengthen the enforcement of Republic Act No. 9231, An Act providing for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labor and Affording Stronger Protection for the Working Child, amending for this purpose RA 7610, as amended, otherwise known as the “Special Protection of Children Against Child Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act”.

Strengthening efforts to alleviate family poverty and increase access to education will do more to improve the lives of children than allowing young children to work. In recent years, the DOLE, other government agencies and social partners strengthened the Philippine Program Against Child Labor (PPACL) for a child labor free Philippines and continuous to work to transform the lives of child laborers, their families and communities towards their sense of self-worth, empowerment and development. The PPACL also works towards the prevention and progressive elimination of child labor through protection, withdrawal, healing and reintegration of child workers into a caring society.

The DOLE targets to at least withdraw from child labor 630,000 children by 2022. The report of the United States Department of Labor (USDL), the Philippines has a moderate advancement in efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labor. President Rodrigo Roa Duterte signed Executive Order No. 92 institutionalizing the National Council Against Child Labor (NCACL) to help further implement the Philippines Program Against Child Labor (PPACL) Strategic Framework.

The government also permanently closed nine establishments found to be in violation of child labor laws, and launched the 6-year #SaferKidsPH campaign, which aims to strengthen the investigation and prosecution of cases of online commercial sexual exploitation of children. However, children in the Philippines engage in the worst forms of child labor, including in commercial sexual exploitation, sometimes as a result of human trafficking, and in armed conflict.

The USDL also reported that Filipino children also perform dangerous tasks in agriculture and gold mining. Although the government made meaningful efforts in all relevant areas, it did not adequately protect children allegedly engaged in drug trafficking from inappropriate incarceration, penalties for crimes they were forced to commit, or physical harm.

The power of words is that a life can be launched with as little as a single phrase, an uplifting word or an act of kindness. Think of the power we wield and the impact we can make if we become more intentional about encouraging our children. Our words are often the very things that help create future dreams. And sometimes those dreams are to be just like us.

END/Patrick T Rillorta