THINK ON THESE: Suffer not those children

“A former child laborer in Davao del Sur rises above adversity, now attains a dream of attending college,” goes the headline of a news item released by the regional office of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE XI).

Maria dela Cruz (not her real name), now 20, was once a child laborer who lives in barangay Lower Dolo in Bansalan, Davao del Sur. She now goes to college after the DOLE XI provided an intervention to rescue her and her family from deprivation.

“(She) had a childhood filled with hardship and uncertainty,” said the news time. “Her father was the sole breadwinner of the family, spending endless hours in the farm, while her mother was unable to work due to health issues. The burden fell heavily on Maria’s young shoulders, holding back her dreams of going to college.”

When she was 16, she was handpicked by the provincial government of Davao del Sur to be profiled as a child laborer engaged in hazardous working conditions in the agriculture sector for some time.

To rescue children like Maria from the worst forms of labor in the country, the labor department has devised measures and responses through its Child Labor Prevention and Elimination Program (CLPEP).

Among the strategic approaches is the provision of livelihood grants to parents of child laborers through its DOLE Integrated Livelihood Program (DILP) or Kabuhayan Program. The intervention is intended to address the economic gap and bring forth immediate augmentations to family incomes.

In July last year, Maria’s mother received a DOLE-assisted livelihood project in the form of a sari-sari store through the DOLE XI-Davao del Sur Field Office. This allowed Maria’s parents to start their own small business and to provide their family with a sustainable source of income.

With this newfound financial stability, her parents were finally able to support Maria in pursuing her dreams of higher education. As for her part, Maria brought so much joy and pride to her parents when she completed her senior high school with flying colors.

A year later, the sari-sari store flourished and the income from the business not only covered their daily needs but also opened an opportunity for them to invest in livestock, particularly hog raising. This additional revenue stream was earmarked for Maria’s college tuition.

“I am deeply grateful to DOLE for the help they have given me. I hope you continue to assist more families like ours. As a student, I aspire to finish my studies, and with that, I am grateful to the department,” Maria was quoted as saying.

With the unwavering support from DOLE XI and the success of their sari-sari store, Maria’s dream of attending college became a reality. She successfully completed her first year in college and is now preparing for her sophomore year of studies pursuing a degree in Business Management, majoring in Finance Management.

Maria’s story is a testament to the transformative power of the DOLE’s Child Labor Prevention and Elimination Program.

“By addressing the root causes of child labor and providing sustainable livelihood opportunities, the program has not only liberated a young girl from a life of labor but also empowered an entire family to achieve a brighter and more hopeful future,” DOLE XI said in a statement.

The legal definition of child labor, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is “exploitative labor among children below 17 years of age.”

The International Labor Organization (ILO), another UN agency, said child labor is a kind of work that harms children’s well-being and hinders their education, development and future livelihoods. When children must work long hours, their ability to attend school or skills training is limited, preventing them from gaining education that could help lift them out of poverty in the future.

Last July 25, the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) released the working children situation report. It said the country is home to about 31.71 million children, aged 5 to 17 years old. About 1.48 million (4.7%) of these children are working. Of the total, some 828,000 (56%) were engaged in child labor.

If we have to break down the figures, about 61.6% belong to 15-17 years old and the remaining (38.4%) belong to 5-14 years old. About 66.2% were males and 33.8% were females.

Children who are engaged in child labor were employed in agriculture (68.8%), services (25.9%), and industry (5.3%).

By region, the top “employers” of child labors were SOCCSKSARGEN (South Cotabato, Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani, and General Santos City) with 12.5%; Central Visayas, 10.5%; BARMM (Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao), 10.4%; Northern Mindanao, 9.4%; and Ilocos Region, 7.7%.

From 2018 to 2022, the DOLE has profiled 620,556 child laborers. It has referred 614,066 child laborers to necessary services with 138,460 provided with necessary services. About 148,248 were withdrawn from child labor.

The National Council Against Child Labor and its partners are advocating for the rights of every Filipino child to be a “Batang Malaya.”

“Child labor robs children of their chance to reach their full potential, stripping them of the rights to education, health, well-being, and a carefree childhood,” it said.

In the Gospel of Matthew (chapter 19, verse 14), Jesus rebuked his disciples for turning away a group of children. He told them, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

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