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Bureau of International Labor Affairs
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The Philippines

I. Overview

Child labor is recognized as a serious problem in the Philippines. In the third quarter of 1991, the Philippine Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) estimated that there were 777,000 Filipino workers between the ages of 10 and 14, and 1.4 million between 15 and 17 years. These figures exclude the large number of working children below the age of 10.1 In a recent article, however, DOLE reportedly acknowledged that, altogether, at least five million children work in commercial and industrial sectors in the Philippines.2 These figures coincide with UNICEF and ILO estimates of 5 to 5.7 million working children.3

The Filipino garment industry commonly uses child labor in the manufacture of products exported to the United States.4 Child labor is allegedly found in wood and rattan furniture making and in gold mining, but further research is required. In addition, there are reports of child labor in food processing (including sardine canning),5 fireworks/pyrotechnics, footwear, plastic bags, and so-called "muroami fishing",6 but there is little evidence that these items are exported to the United States with any regularity. There are no statistics on the number of child workers in Filipino export industries.

II. Child Labor in Export Industries

Garments and Embroidery

In 1993, the Philippines exported over $1 billion worth of garments to the United States.7 Studies report that children work on a piece-work basis at home, or in makeshift work places under a subcontracting system.8 Children sew, make button holes, trim, fold, wash, and pack garments.9 In smaller factories and home sites, children also embroider and smock clothes, including baby dresses.10

A 1990 study by Professor Corazon J. Veneracion of the University of Philippines documented young children working in the garment industry through the subcontracting system in Taal, Pandi, and the Malibong Matanda areas.11 Export products to the United States include embroidered blouses, skirts, dresses, table cloths, place mats, and potholders.12 While most workers were young adult women, 11 to 14 year old children removed excess thread, folded, trimmed, patched,13 and embroidered the garments.

A 1993 ILO report found that children generally worked long hours in poor, unhealthy and crowded conditions and received less than a third of the legislated minimum wage.14 Some children work 11 hours per day15 or up to 30 hours per week in addition to attending school.16 Children who stay at the factory pay rent, as well as expenses for needles, threads, and machine repairs, which are deducted from the salary.17

Children working in garment factories complain of lack of sleep, fatigue (especially during rush periods), colds, cough, headaches, finger and leg cramps, allergy to textile dust, and eye strain.18 Children working at smaller factories or home sites also suffer from various work-related health problems, including back strain, hand cramps after long hours of stitching, and sometimes scissor cuts.19

Wodd and Rattan Furniture

Rattan furniture is a long-established Philippine export to the United States.20 Children are more likely to be found working in the subcontracted furniture shops than in larger factories.21

A 1988 ILO study describes children assembling furniture pieces, weaving seats, and varnishing wood.22 Approximately 88 percent of the children sampled for the study worked in industrial establishments, while only 12 percent worked for subcontractors as "home-based outworkers." Children working in factories received 15 to 25 pesos per day (approximately 61 cents to $1). About 29 percent of t23he children were compensated with free food or were unpaid; the rest were paid on a piece rate basis. About 48 percent of these children work between 15 to 25 hours a week, while 13 percent work more than 50 hours for less than minimum wage.

Children and others working in woodworking factories are subject to inhaling large amounts of wood dust due to the lack of ventilation.24 The study found that children frequently mishandle dangerous chemicals, resulting in skin diseases, respiratory irritations, and visual disturbances.25

Gold Mining

In 1992, the Philippines exported almost $2 million worth of non-monetary gold and approximately $16 million of gold and silver jewelry to the United States.26 A study in 1992 on gold mining in the South Catabato region reports that small-scale mining produces an average of 3,000 bags of ore (25 kilograms or 55 pounds each) per day.27 It is alleged that some packers, who carry the bags of gold down the hill, are as young as seven and eight.28 The children reportedly earn between 40 and 50 pesos per day (approximately $1.62 to $2). Older packers earn between 250 and 300 pesos per day (approximately $10 to $12).29 One eight year-old told the authors that over a hundred boys his age have left school to become packers.

III. Laws of The Philippines

A. National Child Labor Laws

In the Philippines, the minimum age for general employment is 15 years. Under the Child Protection Act of 1992 and the Republic Act No. 7610, however, children under 15 may be employed, provided that: the employer secures a work permit from the Department of Labor and Employment; the protection, health, and safety and morals of the children can be ensured; measures to prevent exploitation or discrimination in remuneration and work schedules are instituted; and a continuous program for training and skill acquisitions of the child is formulated and implemented.30 The Republic Act No. 7658 amended section Article VIII, section 12, of Act No. 7610 by prohibiting children below 15 years of age from employment except when they work in a family-run company or when their participation in public entertainment is "essential".31 Moreover, under the Child and Youth Welfare Code, employers are required to submit periodic reports and maintain a register on child employees.

The Bureau of Women and Young Workers is charged with enforcing child labor laws.32 This Bureau coordinates and collaborates with non-governmental organizations and other governmental agencies, but has no inspectors. It depends on inspectors from the Labor Standards Division and the Welfare Division, but with only 197 labor inspectors, the monitoring of child labor laws remains an enormous challenge.

B. Education Laws

The Philippines has free public education through grade 6 (or age 12), but only about 60 percent of school-aged children actually attend.33 Parents have difficulty accommodating the cost of sending their children to school, including food and transportation allowances. Many of these children from poor families eventually drop-out.34

C. International Conventions

The Philippines is a party to the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child and ILO Convention No. 59 Concerning Minimum Age for Admission to Employment in Industry. The Philippines has not ratified ILO Convention No. 138 Concerning Minimum Age for Admission to Employment.35

IV. Programs and Efforts To Address Child Labor

On June 22, 1994, the Government of the Philippines signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the International Labor Organization's International Program for the Elimination of Child Labor (IPEC) to develop national programs and plans of action for the eradication of child labor.36

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) began supporting a Philippine action program for child workers - "The Breaking Ground for Community Action on Child Labor" in July 1988,37 aimed at abolishing exploitative child labor and protecting working children. The UNICEF-assisted Community Action on Child Labor combines research, advocacy, and other action programs to combat child labor in 11 regions.38

Numerous non-governmental organizations in the Philippines are active in addressing child labor problems in the country. For example, the Kamalayan Development Center receives information about exploited children and, with the assistance of the Department of Labor and Employment, has conducted raids on factories using child labor. The Asian Social Institute in Manila runs a shelter for street children. The Catholic Child Bureau runs a counseling center for street children, and has a special Child Rights Center. The Child Rights Center of the Commission on Human Rights investigates abuses against children and initiates appropriate legal action on their behalf. The Trade Union Congress of the Philippines' Youth Department has an initiative called "Project Joel: Addressing the Filipino Child Labor Problem," which documents child labor, public information, advocacy, and training activities. The Salinlahi Foundation coordinates child welfare programs including a research and data bank, education, training, and undertakes national campaigns.

There has been increased attention to the exploitation of child labor in the Philippine news media of late. As national and international concern for the welfare of working children mounts, there is a corresponding increase in the amount of non-governmental organization (NGO) and governmental activity aimed at the protection of children. It is reported that in the past year, representatives of business, government and NGOs have begun to work together more productively toward a collective effort to combat child labor.

1 Children of Toil (Manila: Youth Department of the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (YD-TUCP), October 18, 1992) 5.

2 Nestor Arellano, "5M Children Working in Sweatshops," Today (Philippines), April 4, 1994.

3 Eileen Guerro, "Children Victims and Result of Poverty in Philippines," Associated Press, June 30, 1993.

4 American Embassy-Manila unclassified telegram no. 27135, December 9, 1993. The information provided was based on a University of the Philippines Office of Research Coordination study which was undertaken in conjunction with the Government of Philippines' UNICEF-assisted "Breaking Ground for Community Action on Child Labour Project." The latter documented the pervasive use of child labor in the garment industry's subcontracting operations.

5 In July 1993, the Kamalayan Development Center (KDC) and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) raided a sardine factory in Navotas, and found seven children under 17 years of age working in sweatshop conditions. Children in the sardine factories filled cans with sliced fish parts. See Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1993 (U.S. Department of State, February 1994) 724 [hereinafter Country Reports]. See also "Young's Town Rescue," Child Workers in Asia, vol. 9, no. 3 (July-September 1993) 15. In May 1994, the Philippine Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) and the NBI raided this sardine factory again, as it continued to operate despite an order to shut down. Labor officials and NBI agents reportedly found about a hundred 'exploited' children working in the Sardine factory during the second raid. The child workers, whose ages range from 10 to 17 years, have not been paid regularly or sufficiently. According to Labor Secretary Nieves Confesor, the company, which was ordered to close down by the NBI, has continued to operate because its owner is being protected by a local official of the Philippine National Police. "Confesor urges boycott of firms employing minors," Philippine Daily Inquirer (Manila), May 20, 1994.

6 Muro-ami, a Japanese term for the type of net used, refers to a method to catch elusive reef fish that are difficult to harvest. According to the ILO, fishing corporations employ children between 12 and 14 years of age, who spend 10 months a year out at sea, swimming and diving to a depth of 100 feet to attach nets to coral reefs. These children have no protective swimwear and are subjected to needlefish and shark attacks, and diseases like typhoid. Victoria Rialp, Children and Hazardous Work in the Philippines (Geneva: International Labor Organization, 1993) 6-8 [hereinafter Rialp]. See also Professor Nymia Simbulan, Children in Trouble: Its Socio-Economic Dimensions (unpublished manuscript, n.d.) 16 [on file] [hereinafter Simbulan]. See also Henk van Oosterhout, "Child Labor in the Philippines: The Muro-Ami Deep Sea Fishing Operation," in Combating Child Labor (Geneva: International Labor Organization, 1988) 109-122.

7 U.S. Department of Commerce, International Trade Administration, Office of Textiles and Apparel, Major Shippers Report: Textiles and Apparel (June 11, 1994).

8 Rosario del Rosario, Subcontracting Networks in the Garment Industry in Taytay and Angono, Rizal (University of the Philippines and UNICEF, November 1990) 25-27 [hereinafter Rosario del Rosario]. Julio Macaranas, Child Labor in the Philippines (Washington, D.C.: International Labor Rights Education and Research Fund, January 3, 1994) 5-6. There are several studies on children in the garment industry. See also, Mary Ann Ruiz, Ruby Dimaano, Carmelita Rayala, "Children in the Garment Industry," Philippine Labor Review, vol. 10, no. 1 (January-June 1986) 25. See also a 1994 report of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, which found children working as subcontractors in the Philippine garment industry. "Child labor: The world's best kept secret," International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (Brussels: June 1994).

9 Rosario del Rosario at 1.

10 Joseph Albright and Marcia Kunstel, "Work That Never Ends," in Stolen Childhood, Cox Newspapers (June 21-26, 1987) 13 [hereinafter Albright and Kunstel].

11 Professor Ma. Corazon J. Veneracion, Subcontracting Networks in the Garments Industry in Bulacan (Manila: University of the Philippines - Office of Research Coordination, for "Breaking Ground for Community Action on Child Labor" - a UNICEF-assisted Project, November 1990). The report describes the garment industry in Taal, Pandi, and Malibong Matanda, the production and marketing process in embroidery and garment sewing, as well as the work and employment conditions in these regions.

12 Id. at 10.

13 Id. at 14-15.

14 Rialp at 2.

15 Rosario del Rosario at 11.

16 Assefa Bequele and Jo Boyden, eds., Combating Child Labour (Geneva: International Labor Organization, 1988) 84 [hereinafter Combating Child Labor]. In 1988, according to the ILO, 84 percent of the children in the garment industry work between 15 and 30 hours per week.

17 Rosario del Rosario at 11.

18 Id. at 12.

19 Id.

20 Albright and Kunstel at 13.

21 Interview with the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) by Department of Labor official (May 1994).

22 Child Labor in the Philippines: Wood-Based and Clothing Industries (Institute of Industrial Relations, University of the Philippines) reprinted in Combating Child Labor at 85.

23 Id. at 84.

24 "Child Labor - The Philippine Case," Philippine Journal of Industrial Relations, vol. VIII, no. 1 (1986) 14.

25 Id.

26 U.S. Merchandise Trade: Exports and General Imports by Country (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Commerce, 1993) A-341, A-344.

27 Levita Duhaylongsod and David Hyndman, "Where all that glitters is not gold: Crossroads of Mining Exploitation in the T'boli homeland," Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars, vol. 4, no. 3 (1992) 8 and 12-15.

28 Id. at 8.

29 Id.

30 Official Gazette (of the Senate and the House of Representatives of the Philippines), vol. 88, no. 80 (July 27, 1992) 4589.

31 "Philippine Congress Passes Child Labor Law," The Reuter Library Report, November 9, 1993. Republic of the Philippines, Congress of the Philippines, Metro Manila, Second Regular Session (July 26, 1993).

32 G. Suvarchala, "Legislation to Combat Child Labor: an International Perspective," Industrial Relations Journal (Spring 1992) 150.

33 Country Reports at 722.

34 Simbulan at 33.

35 Lists of Ratifications by Convention and by Country (as at December 1992) (Geneva: International Labor Organization, 1993).

36 ILO Press Release (Geneva, June 22, 1994) [on file].

37 Child Labor Project Management team at DOLE, brochure, Breaking Ground for Community Action on Child Labor [n.d.] [on file].

38 Addressing Child Labor Problems, Position Paper of the Department of Labor and Employment, Republic of the Philippines, 1994 [unpublished manuscript on file] 5.