Sugar is sweeter without child labor – the United States Department of Labor funded ABK3 LEAP Project reiterates its call to end hazardous child labor in sugarcane plantations as it celebrates this year’s World Day Against Child Labor (WDACL). The project joined the global celebration themed “End Child Labor in Supply Chains – It’s Everyone’s Business!” through a series of Sharing of Good Practices which culminated in a national event at the Hotel H2O in Luneta, Manila on June 22, 2016. Attended by more than 140 participants from government, civil society, academe and sugar industry agencies and institutions working for children’s welfare, the celebration showcased ABK3 LEAP’s most promising practices that have greatly contributed to the withdrawal of 86% of child laborers assisted by the project in its 4.5 years of implementation.
“The ABK3 LEAP project is about to end so we want to share what we’ve seen to have worked in reducing child labor in the sugarcane farms. This Sharing of Good Practices activity is our way of ensuring that these initiatives will be sustained and replicated with all interested stakeholders in sugarcane and in other industries as we continue to reach our country’s goal of a Child Labor-Free Philippines,” Project Director Daphne Culanag shared.
The largest USDOL funded child labor project to date, ABK3 LEAP is aimed at reducing child labor in sugarcane farms through a multi-sector approach integrating initiatives in livelihoods, education, advocacy and social protection, in line with the Philippine Program Against Child Labor (PPACL). Implemented from 2012-2016, the project assisted 54,479 children who were engaged or at at-risk of working in sugarcane farms from 30,412 households. Previously, the ABK1 (2003-2008) and ABK2 (2007-2011) projects, also funded by USDOL, were able to withdraw and prevent over 60,000 Filipino children from engaging in the Worst Forms of Child Labor (WFCL) through various education support.
“We accepted the reality that there’s child labor in our farms… and we worked together (to curb it), from the owners of sugar mills signing Codes of Conduct to the laborer’s families, knowing that we are doing this for our children,” outgoing Sugar Regulatory Administration head Regina Bautista-Martin expressed in her message.
ABK3 LEAP’s Good Practices
One of the most successful initiatives in livelihoods is the organization of Savings Groups or Community Managed Savings and Credit Associations (CoMSCA). At least 1,213 savings groups composed of 25,866 members saved over P32 million and gained at least P12 million in profit from loan service charges. These savings groups became the conduit of enterprise development services provided by the project to diversify the income sources of households to better prepare them for the tiempo muerto or off-season in sugarcane farming. Further, their foundation as an organized financial group served as a platform for leveraging more than P32 million livelihood grants from the DOLE Integrated Livelihoods and Emergency Employment Program (DILEEP) and the DSWD Sustainable Livelihoods Program (SLP).
The involvement of Teachers as advocates against child labor and the Catch-up Program were identified as good practices in education. Over 2,000 teachers trained to better respond to the needs of child laborers through the Teacher Training Series (TTS) became child rights advocates, network builders, and monitors in their schools and communities. 1,242 trained Little Teachers or peer educators, many of whom were former child laborers, were mobilized to provide after-school tutorial support in their communities to struggling learners and boost their interest in school through storytelling, one on one tutoring, and structured games.
Another vital initiative was the empowerment of at least 2,000 community volunteers as local champions against child labor. These volunteers, mostly mothers and barangay workers, contributed to the significant decrease of child laborers through their active involvement in raising awareness on child labor, in organizing CoMSCAs and communal/ backyard gardens, in coordinating catch-up classes in collaboration with little teachers, and in regularly monitoring children and households.
Building on the role of local government units (LGUs) as service providers in the communities, the project set out to enhance and strengthen the role of LGUs in building and sustaining child labor-free communities through policy making, program development and budget allocation for children’s welfare. The project’s support facilitated the issuance of ordinances, resolutions and executive orders for children’s welfare and child labor prevention in 8 provinces, 37 cities and municipalities and 142 barangays. It also assisted the certification of 61 Child Labor Labor-Free Barangays by DOLE.
Lastly, the engagement of the sugar industry was proven crucial in sustaining child labor-free farms through the passage of 3 Voluntary Codes of Conduct in the sugar industry in the provinces of Bukidnon, Batangas and Negros Occidental which were adopted and implemented by planters associations and agrarian reform beneficiary groups. ABK3 LEAP’s close collaboration with the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) paved way for the integration of child rights and child labor modules in the agency’s regular trainings and the inclusion of anti-child labor provision in the guidelines for Block Farm accreditation, a program under the Sugar Industry Development Act of 2015.
Videos and personal testimonies of beneficiaries and partners on the 6 good practices highlighted the event. The audience was provided a booklet describing the initiatives and a flash drive containing the toolkit used to implement the said practices, both of which can also be downloaded from project’s website www.abk3leap.ph.
In closing, Sugar Industry Foundation Inc. President and COO Edith Villanueva challenged everyone to continue what the ABK3 LEAP project has started. “We must keep the children away from the farms and into the schools. Sugar is sweeter when we have champions like you. Sugar is sweeter when there is no child left behind,” she added.