Senator Win Gatchalian is urging the National Council Against Child Labor (NCLC) to intensify its crackdown on child labor as the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to put millions of children and their families in poverty.
Gatchalian made this call after the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the International Labour Organization (ILO) warned that the COVID-19 pandemic could reverse the global decline in child labor. In the last two decades, there were 94 million fewer children in child labor but the two agencies warned that the gain is now at risk.
According to Gatchalian, the NCLC should ensure that Republic Act (RA) No. 7610 or the “Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act” remains in full force. He added that RA 9231, which amends RA No. 7610 to cover the elimination of the worst forms of child labor and protection of children from labor exploitation, should be fully enforced.
Gatchalian reiterated that before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the country, child labor in the Philippines was already a challenge. According to the United States Department of Labor’s 2018 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor, 3.2 million children in the Philippines aged five to 17 engage in child labor, approximately 3 million of whom engage in hazardous work.
The same report from the US Labor Department showed that children in the Philippines are engaged in dangerous tasks in both agriculture and mining. The worst forms of child labor affecting children in the Philippines include the recruitment of children in armed conflict and commercial sexual exploitation.
The lawmaker also warned that with 7.3 million Filipinos losing their jobs amid the COVID-19 pandemic, some children would end up dropping out of school and finding a job to help their families survive. He cited the example of Brazil, where parental unemployment due to economic shocks led children to step in and provide temporary support. Similar trends were observed in Guatemala, India, Mexico and the United Republic of Tanzania.
“Ang ating mga kabataan ay dapat nag-aaral at hindi napipilitang maghanapbuhay upang malagpasan ang krisis na dulot ng COVID-19. Kung hindi natin mapipigilan ang pagdami ng mga kabataang napipilitang maghanapbuhay, mas nanganganib silang makaranas ng iba’t ibang uri ng pang-aabuso,” said Gatchalian, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Basic Education, Arts and Culture.
Gatchalian also emphasized the role of subsidies to provide income security for workers and families, which could help spare children from taking on jobs. According to Gatchalian, this adds urgency to passing the Bayanihan to Recover As One Act (Senate Bill No. 1564) or Bayanihan 2.0 to continuously provide relief for affected families. Bayanihan 2.0 contains provisions that would provide tuition subsidies to students facing financial difficulties but are not covered by government educational subsidies or voucher programs.