Home Page > Advocacy > A sweeter life for child laborers in sugarcane farms
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“If I didn’t get the loan from CEVI through the ABK3 LEAP project, I wouldn’t have been able to start my hog raising business and support the schooling of my three children. It wasn’t much but it helped and challenged me to be more productive in life,” shared 44-year old Rita.

She and her husband Ganny used to work in the sugarcane farms earning P80-P150 each for a day’s labor under the scorching heat of the sun. But when Ganny got sick from the strenuous hauling and loading of sugarcane to the trucks, finding additional ways to earn money fell into Rita’s hands. She tried selling sweet potato candy to ease the family’s financial burden but it still wasn’t enough. The meagre income forced Rita to bring her two eldest children to work in the sugarcane farms.

As a mother, it was not easy for Rita to see her children working instead of going to school. But for a family in dire need, more hands working mean food on the table. According to the 2011 NSO Survey on Children, there are 3.03 million child laborers in the Philippines, from which 2.99 million are working in hazardous conditions. Like Rita’s children who work in the sugarcane farms of Negros, 62% of children in hazardous labor are in the agriculture industry, many of whom are forced to work at a young age because of poverty. Child labor not only denies children access to education, but it also robs them of their childhood and the opportunity of a better life.

In 2013, Rita, along with other parents in their neighborhood, attended a financial literacy training facilitated by Community Economic Ventures, Inc. (CEVI), the microfinance partner of ABK3 LEAP. Through the training, Rita learned about the value of saving and financial management. The training also opened her eyes to various options on how she can grow and expand their income sources.

Through CEVI, Rita was provided with loans to start her own business. “At first I was hesitant to get a loan because my husband and I didn’t like the idea of owing money. But when I learned that the group in our barangay lacked one more member so they can avail of loans, I was encouraged to give it a try. I don’t regret making that decision,” confessed Rita.

In December 2013, Rita availed of her first loan worth P5, 000, with very minimal interest. She used this to buy a gilt, a female pig that has not given birth yet. Rita and her husband were ecstatic when they learned that the gilt was already pregnant when they bought it. Two months after, the gilt gave birth to 5 healthy piglets. Months after, a litter of 17 additional piglets were born, 8 on the second farrowing and 9 on the third.

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Rita’s family is one of the 30,331 households currently assisted by ABK3 LEAP in 11 sugar producing provinces in the Philippines. ABK3 assists these households in looking for ways to diversify their income sources and to better prepare them for the dreaded “tiempo muerto” in sugarcane farming. As of April 2015, CEVI has provided microfinance services to 3,080 households in areas where they work. Other households are also being trained and provided with start up kits for animal raising, vegetable gardening, food processing, product development, or beauty care services, among others, to boost their livelihoods.

Rita is glad that her three children are among the 54,000 children assisted by the project who receive school supplies and school uniforms. This means families have more money to spend for more basic needs while they are growing their livelihoods. Parents like Rita and Ganny also participate in awareness raising activities conducted by volunteers, teachers, and children trained as Child Rights Advocates where discussions about children’s rights and the hazards and negative effects of hazardous child labor in sugarcane farms help them understand and realize that children are better off in school than in the fields. Programs and policies are also being planned and crafted by local governments and sugar industry institutions to create an enabling environment for building communities that are child friendly and child labor-free.

At present, Rita has repaid her credit from her three loan cycles. Encouraged to further expand her growing venture, she took out another loan and has decided to buy another gilt. She now has more than 20 pigs. And so, with her thriving business in place, Rita is now more confident that she can send her children to school. She is glad that they can now focus on studying and finishing school instead of toiling in the sugarcane farms.

Her smile is bright and full of hope as she looks lovingly at her children. “I always remind them to study hard because it’s the only thing I can give them. I want them to know that even if life is difficult, I will strive hard so they can finish school and have a better life,” Rita exclaimed.

Rita’s eldest, Christine, is now in college taking up Accounting while Charlie and Lester, both in high school, are optimistic that a brighter and sweeter future is within their reach.

Story contributors: Orlando Ducay and Gaudioso Calibugan of CEVI

Photos by Orlando Ducay

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