Rise in Child Labor Tied to CARP’s Failure

The “festering” problem of child labor in the Philippines and in the Davao areas is one of the results of the failure of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program, according to child advocates and peasant groups.

Davao Today
Posted by Bulatlat
Vol. VII, No. 21, July 1-7, 2007

DAVAO CITY, Philippines — As a 10-year-old child, Marlon Makilan had to work in a sugarcane plantation in Sarangani province a decade ago. “Rain or shine, I had to work,” Makilan recalled.

“Because we were children, we were only paid 40 pesos to 50 peso per day, but we had no choice because we were very poor,” Makilan said. “I cut sugarcane and load them in containers.”

According to Makilan, some children as young as five to six years old worked with him. “They would tie up the sugarcane in bundles and carry these to waiting vans. When we’re tired, we could not complain,” he said.

Now 20, Makilan is on his third year in college. He considered himself lucky — many children are still out there, working in the fields, he said.

Child advocates in this city have blamed the failure of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) for the worsening poverty in the countryside, which, in turn, pushes more children to work long hours in the farms and plantations.

Eliza Apit, unit director of the Kamalayan Development Foundation, said that dire economic conditions are forcing parents to send their children to sugarcane plantations in Sarangani province and other areas in Mindanao as farm laborers, where they work long hours under the scorching sun and are exposed to hazards posed by toxic chemicals and sharp farm implements.

Apit said the rising incident of child labor in agricultural plantations can be traced to the government’s failed land reform program. “Sending their children to work was against their will,” Apit said, referring to the parents who dragged their children to work in the farms.
“I was told they only need three things to stop their children from working: the minimum wage, a six-day workweek, and genuine land reform,” said Apit, whose child-focused group has been working with child laborers in Kiblawan.

Apit said parents wanted the minimum wage implemented because they were only receiving a pay of 70 pesos to 80 pesos a day, which is way below the prevailing minimum wage for agriculture workers in the region. They also demanded a six-day workweek instead of the two or three-day work week they’re currently allowed.

“They wanted it because, at present, they’re only working two to three days work week, which are not enough to support their families. At only 70 pesos a day, a two-day workweek makes it very hard for the family to survive,” Apit said.

But most of all, people are clamoring for genuine land reform so they can have their lands that can pull them out of poverty, she said.
Anita Morales, executive director of Metsa Foundation, said CARP should be implemented beyond 2008 because there are still a lot of lands that have not yet been taken over by the government and distributed to those who deserved them.

“There should be a political will to implement agrarian reform,” she said. “And the clamor should be land for the tillers, instead of land for the landless,” said Morales, whose group has been working with farm-based households employed in commercial agriculture sector.
Contrary to the figures given by the government, she said, more lands remain untouched by the government’s agrarian reform program.
“In Davao city’s third district, for instance, banana and pineapple plantations make up thousands of hectares which until now are still untouched by CARP,” she said.

Celso Pojas, spokesperson of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas in Southern Mindanao, also said that after 19 years of CARP, seven out of every 10 farmers are still landless while real CARP beneficiaries are constantly being threatened with land confiscation.
Pojas said that high amortization of lands under CARP and the meager rental payment by multinational companies renting lands from CARP beneficiaries often lead to cancellation of the beneficiaries’ Certificate of Land Ownership Award (CLOA). He also said that government oftentimes limited CARP to government lands, abandoned lands or those being offered voluntarily to sell and private lands below 50 hectares.

“They leave big landholdings of the Floirendo’s, Lagdameo’s, the Ayalas and the Dizons alone,” said Pojas.
Meanwhile, according to the National Statistics Office 2001 survey, of the 25 million children between the age of five and 17 nationwide, four million children are already working.

Of the four million working children, only 2.6 million were able to attend school. More than 50 percent of these children are in agriculture and 2.4 million of them are exposed to physical, biological and chemical hazards. In the largely agricultural region of Southern Mindanao, the number of child workers is estimated at 342,000.

“As long as this country remains poor, as long as this country is ‘not free,’ children cannot go to school and child labor will remain a festering sore,” said Ponciano Ligutom, regional director of the Department of Labor and Employment.
“Both the national and local government have a role to play to solve the problem,” he said. “We have to increase awareness of people to do something about this.” Davao Today / Posted by(Bulatlat.com)

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