“The pay is high in hauling sugarcane but it is not the kind of work suited for children,” 18-year old Ryan Alunsabe, a former a child laborer, shared.
Ryan started working in their small family-owned farm when he was in Grade 4. 9-year old Ryan and his older brother helped weed their farm during weekends and summer vacations. They usually worked 3 hours in the morning and would extend for another 3 hours in the afternoon when the weather was not so hot.
“I was enticed to work in the sugarcane farms during summer vacations because I wanted to earn money just like my older brother. I wanted to buy a lot of things,” confessed Ryan. His initiation in sugarcane farm work began when he was in 2nd year high school. That summer, Ryan’s father, who also worked as a sugarcane farm laborer to earn additional income for the family, had to focus on plowing their small farm. Eager to earn money, Ryan substituted his father and worked 8 hours a day cutting, hauling and loading sugarcane into the trucks.
Ryan recounts his experiences as a child laborer, “You really feel your muscles aching, especially in the shoulders, at night. One time, I slipped and fell from the ladder while loading canes into the trucks. I was lucky the ground was strewn with sugarcane leaves so the fall wasn’t that bad. There were also times when it would be so hot in the morning while we were cutting canes, and then it would rain in the afternoon while we were hauling and loading them into the trucks. My body would be so sore when I woke up the next day.”
Nonetheless, this didn’t stop Ryan from going back to work. Persistent as he was, he would often go back to the sugarcane farm when he felt a little better. One day, Ryan, having just recovered from sickness, suddenly felt dizzy and faint while he was in the farm cutting canes. That incident became a turning point for the young boy. While he was happy to earn money weekly, the work was just too physically strenuous for a child like him. Without hesitation, Ryan informed his parents about his decision to stop working, which they understood and accepted.
According to the 2011 NSO Survey on Children, 5.49 million Filipino children ages 5-17 are working. Of these, 3.03 million are engaged in child labor and 2.99 million are doing hazardous work. More than half of these children are working in the agriculture sector, where sugarcane is included. Child laborers in sugarcane farms face various hazards such as long hours of work, burns and poison from fertilizer, exposure to extreme weather, injuries from sharp tools, carrying heavy loads and falling off trucks, and snake and insect bites.
The preliminary findings of the Occupational Safety and Health Analysis on Hazardous Work of Children in Sugarcane Production research by UPSARDF (2013) classified farm tasks/ activities into three levels of risks as follows:
HIGH RISK (Hazardous Work)
|PlantingGathering and piling of sugar cane stalks||
Preparing sugarcane tops for planting
Peeling off sugarcane leaves
|Cutting sugarcaneHauling and carrying sugarcane bundles
Loading sugarcane into trucks
Burning of sugarcane fields
Plowing the fields
The study suggests that tasks with low and moderate risks can be done by 15-17 year old children provided the risks are mitigated through the use of protective gear. Conversely, tasks tagged as high risk are considered hazardous and should not be done by all children.
ABK3 LEAP works in collaboration with community volunteers, local governments, government agencies, the sugar industry and other stakeholders to ensure that policies, programs, systems and structures are in place to protect vulnerable children from engaging in hazardous child labor and expanding households’ livelihoods options and access to various social protection programs so they need not resort to child labor.
Ryan became an assisted child of ABK3 LEAP in Bago City when he was in high school. A natural leader, he became an active youth leader in their community. Aside from being elected as President of the Barangay Children’s Association (BCA), he also leads the group of Little Teachers in their barangay regularly conducting catch-up sessions for struggling children. Recently, he also trained as a CoMSA for Children Village Agent to promote saving among his peers. “I really want to reach out to other children in our barangay, especially those in the far-flung sitios, ” Ryan revealed. He knows that he can only do so much so he plans to share his learnings from the trainings and workshops he has attended to other child and youth leaders in their community so they can duplicate his efforts and reach more children.
“If there’s one word that would describe how I feel right now, it would be the word PROUD. I am proud of being an ABK3 assisted child. I am proud to be the BCA President, ” beamed Ryan as he recounts the many opportunities for learning that the project has presented to him. “All of these new learnings are valuable to me. They have made me more confident in myself,” he further conveyed.
Seeing all his achievements, Ryan’s parents also encourage him to persevere with his studies. “You are our only hope,” they would usually tell him. Ryan’s older brother lost interest in school when he started earning money from working in sugarcane farms. Ryan, on the other hand, wants to get a college degree and get a job so he can help send his two younger siblings to school. “I really want to provide a more comfortable life for my family. I don’t want to see my parents still working in the farm when they get old just like my grandfather,” Ryan said with eyes full of hope.
After graduating from high school, Ryan was among the youth in his village who signed up for the VocTech courses sponsored by ABK3 LEAP. He finished a 6-month course in Basic Computer Literary and received the Best in Excel award. This June, Ryan is one step closer to fulfilling his dreams. Having earned a college scholarship, he is now enrolled in West Visayas State University taking up Bachelor of Science in Information Technology.