Sugar is sweet, but the lives of children working in sugarcane plantations are far from it.
“I was only 12 years old when I started working at the farm to augment my family’s income. My job was to haul as much as 40 kilos of sugarcane to fill a truck. Children had the same job as the adults. Loading took place very late at night under all weather conditions. It was very, very hard,” 16-year-old Danny, a young sugarcane plantation worker reveals.
Danny is one of the many children whose stories were featured on ’15 Voices (Children’s Voices in Sugarcane Farms)’, a collection of narratives of working children from the research on Occupational Safety and Health Hazards Analysis Among Child Workers in Sugarcane Production conducted by the University of the Philippines Social Action and Research for Development Foundation, Inc. (UPSARDF) for the ABK3 LEAP Project.
Funded by the United States Department of Labor, the project works to reduce and prevent child labor in sugarcane farms in 11 provinces through the provision of livelihoods, education, advocacy and protection support. Danny and his family are part of the 54,043 children and 30,331 households directly assisted by the ABK3 LEAP Project.
The findings of the 2011 NSO Survey on Children showed that of the 3.21 million Filipino child laborers ages 5-17 years old; 2.99 million are doing hazardous work, mostly in the agriculture sector. But the extent of the child labor problem in sugarcane farms is still undetermined. Danny and other sugarcane child laborers remain invisible and vulnerable despite the existing laws and regulations in the country.
Danny shares that he works in the sugarcane farms from February to March and in the corn fields from June to December during tiempo muerto, the lean season in sugarcane when work is limited. Juggling between school and work is also very difficult for children working in the kampo (sugarcane farm). The multiple demands from school, work in the farms and domestic chores has forced 1 in every 10 children to drop out from school to work full time, according to ABK3 LEAP’s Baseline Survey.
Child labor in the sugarcane industry is complex and is caused by several factors including intergenerational poverty, lack of access to quality education, cultural acceptance of child labor, systems in sugarcane farming, and a lack of reliable data on the number and profile of children working in kampos, among others.
In order to understand these complexities, ABK3 LEAP has partnered with UPSARDF and the University of St. La Salle in Bacolod City to conduct five (5) research studies in sugarcane areas that focus on the occupational and safety hazards among child laborers, sakadas, land reform and its implications on child labor, and increasing productivity in sugarcane through block farming.
The highlights of the five studies will be presented at the Research Forum entitled ‘Kaligtasan, Kabuhayan, Karapatan: Mga Batang Manggagawa sa Tubuhan’ on August 13, 2015, from 8am – 2pm, at the Bulwagang Tandang Sora of the College of Social Work and Community Development of the University of the Philippines Diliman in Quezon City.
“The goal of the forum is not only to inform relevant government, sugar industry, academe, and civil society of the research findings, but more importantly, to discuss policy and program implications that shall respond to the needs of child laborers and their families,” shares Daphne Culanag, ABK3 LEAP Project Director.
“The ABK3 LEAP project is ending soon but Danny’s road to a better life has just begun. While policies and regulations are now in place to safeguard children from being engaged in hazardous child labor, and programs and initiatives are currently being implemented to support child laborers and their families, there is still much to be done to ensure that communities and industries are child labor-free. Child laborers like Danny need all the support they can get from all stakeholders to continue their journey to a sweeter life without hazardous labor in sugarcane farms,” she adds.
ABK3 LEAP is implemented by World Vision Development Foundation, in partnership with ChildFund Philippines, Educational Research and Development Assistance Foundation, Inc. (ERDA), Sugar Industry Foundation, Inc. (SIFI), Community Economic Ventures, Inc. (CEVI), and University of the Philippines Social Action and Research for Development Foundation, Inc. (UPSARDF). Funding for this project was provided by the United States Department of Labor. This press release does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the United States Department of Labor, nor does the mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the United States Government.