Child Labor in the Philippines
by Jon Czajkowski
“We washed clothes, cleaned the house. We were not given breakfast. We were
fed noodle soup cooked in a bucket of water with some eggs. The rice was either spoiled
or smelled bad. We were not permitted to talk to each other and we were prohibited from
calling our relatives”
More than 4 million children are currently enslaved or exploited in child labor in
the Philippines by a number of industries ranging from domestic service, mining, fishing,
sugar plantations, to commercial sex and the selling drugs. Industries use and exploit these
children as a way to lower production costs, operate more efficiently and increase profits.
But, in the end, the children very often are victimized, and in the worse cases wind up as
sex slaves and prostitutes in a widespread international ring of abuse. Sadly, the Filipino
government is slow to regulate, legislate and come up with solutions to these conditions.
Millions of children suffer the curse of child labor in the Philippines for back-breaking,
mind-numbing and hazardous work, usually with only one day off a month for as little as
800 pesos or $16 US per month. Children are often taken away from their families at a
young age with the promise of good wages and a new life and even education, but wind
up trapped by broken dreams, debt and the threat of violence. Some are free to leave, but
have nowhere to go and no way to feed themselves of their families, so they are trapped in
an endless cycle of exploitation and abuse.
Children forced to work in garment and clothing factories, high seas, mines, farms
and sugar plantations or scrubbing floors as domestic help for up to 15 hours a day.“When
in fishing season, more than 200,000 children ranging from age 5 to 17 are exploited in
the fishing industry with typical day lasting up to 15 hours under conditions that threaten
the children’s physical and psychological integrity. They experience problems associated
with decompressions, harsh weather, cuts, bruises, skin disease, body burns, hearing
impairments and paralysis.”
The gold mining industry is especially dangerous with blasting and drilling going on
more than a mile underground. Heat, noise and dust are everywhere as children labor for
less than a dollar for a 12-hour work day with little or no time off. The work environment is
appalling. Lung diseases, bruises, fractures and loss of hearing are common place. “Child
miners work 10-12 hours in appalling working conditions. In the Philippines, children
carry ore in 28KG sacks from gold mines. They break rocks with hammers, wash ore and
transport it” Girl miners also work in bars and restaurants in mining communities. Bar work,
in many cases, leads to sex work or sexual abuse.”
On the sugar plantations, more than 500,000 metric tons of sugar are harvested
by Filipino kids as young as 10 years old. This sugar is than being exported to the U.S.
every year where American consumers buy it not having any idea of the struggles that
these children are going through. These children work long hours, in oppressive heat doing
back-breaking labor. “Filipino sugar is grown by exploited child laborers and sold to U.S.
markets. This isn’t abuse taking place oversees and far away, it’s abuse being packaged into
a bag of sugar and sold in U.S. supermarkets. Maybe it’s being sold in your supermarket.
This is exactly why it’s important to know where your products come from and ask pointed
questions of companies and governments.”
Also being exported to U.S. markets are products made by child laborers from the
wood, rattan furniture, sardine canning and garment industries. As recently as 15 years
ago, the Philippines exported to the U.S. over $1 billion worth of garments with children
being used to make baby dresses, smocks and button holes. Many of these children lived at
the factories where they worked and had to pay rent and buy their own needles and threads
the cost of which was deducted from their salaries.
One of the largest problems children in the Philippians face is sexual exploitation.
According to the International Labor Organization (ILO) of these millions of slave labor
children, more than 100,000 eventually wind up as sex slaves and find themselves in
prostitution rings. They wind up forced to sell themselves on street corners, brothels,
discos massage parlors or even cruise and foreign tourist ships. Most of these slaves are
young girls. Most of these girls, ages 15-20 are from rural and urban backgrounds. Of 500
prostitutes known in the Philippine’s Angeles City, 75% are children.
In the mining industry, teenage girls who become more physically desirable as
they age are often pulled from the mines to work as waitresses and bar maids in the mine
camps. This often evolves into these girls serving as prostitutes and sex slaves for the older
male miners and mine mangers.
In Davo City alone there are more than 1,000 prostituted teenage girls where
customers, some of them foreign tourists, pay as little as 50 cents to $2.50 for a sexual
encounter. As a result, sexually transmitted diseases like AIDS, syphilis and gonorrhea are
increasing in the Philippines. Sadly, as evidence of the widespread nature of poverty and the
desperation of many parents, large numbers of prostituted children in the age group 11-15
are introduced into prostitution by relatives.
However, this problem becomes even greater beyond the Philippine borders.
Reports now show that more than 150,000 young Filipina women have been trafficked
into prostitution in Japan and other Asian countries. Some even find their way into the
United States. “Young Philippine women are vulnerable to sex trafficking into Japan and
are forced to go there through “entertainer visas.” The label “entertainer” often implies sex
worker. These women are vulnerable in Japan because they are young, beautiful women in
a hazardous and vulnerable occupation. Trafficking laws exist in the Philippines, but are not
Most often, prostituted children suffer long term psychological damage from their
experiences. Their health and well-being can be permanently scarred. Dr. Norietta Clama
of the Philippine General Hospital’s Child Protection Unit says that the longer a child stays
in the sex industry, the harder it is to overcome the trauma. “Few children rescued from
brothels have been able to live anything like a healthy life again.”
There are many reasons for these problems. Poverty and illiteracy in the Philippines
are rampant, so any promise for an escape from poverty and even some financial gain are
lures for young children and their families. Although aware of the great risks, many mothers
and fathers support the child labor practices and even the sex-exploitation of their own
children. Even though children must go through school through the sixth grade or age 12,
about 40 percent of school-age kids don’t attend school at all in the Philippines. The parents
simply can’t afford the cost of clothing, food and transportation.
Once trapped in slave labor, the children cannot go to school, those ensuring the
owners of the factories, mines and plantations entire generations of low-cost workers that
have no other choice but to remain trapped in their lifestyles. It becomes a vicious cycle.
For the industry owners, it’s all about increasing production and becoming
more efficient while lowering costs. What rules in the end is building profits. Philippine
government sources have speculated that some industries will go so far as fire paid adult
workers and enslave children to take their place.
What can be done to solve this problem? The Philippine government, despite its
best efforts has been slow and lax to address the problem and enforce existing laws ands regulations against slave labor. More enforcement of existing anti-child slave and
exploitation laws is necessary. Currently, the legal minimum age for general employment
in the Philippines is 15 years, unless the child is working for a family business, but children
under 15 can work for industries that get special work permits. They promise to protect the
health welfare, safety and morals of these workers. This is where there if obviously a big
loophole, since the government Labor Standards and Welfare Division has only a total of
197 labor inspectors nationwide to monitor child labor and other laws. Another watchdog
agency, the Bureau of Women and Young Workers is supposed to also monitor child worker
abuse, but has no inspectors in the field.
The Catholic Church and a number of international human rights organizations are
trying to organize a “Common front” to eradicate child exploitations. The archbishop of
Manila, Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales, has publicly questioned practices that allow for child
The government has promised one approach to solve the problem by providing four-
year educational grant for poor families, thinking that if families are better educated, they
will find better opportunities in life and not have to resort to sending their children off to
Most recently as last week on October 31, the Filipino government has set aside
10.7 million Philippine dollars to help improve the socio-economic conditions of 30,000
disadvantaged migratory field workers, many of them children. Its goal is to help eliminate
the worst forms of child labor in sugar plantations.
Other remedies that are working to some degree or are in the works include
the Philippines becoming more active with international groups and non-governmental
organizations that address child and slave labor. These include the International Labor
Organization’s International Program for the Elimination of Child Labor, the United Nations
Children Fund, and concerned groups within the Philippines that include non-governmental
social agencies, businesses, the Catholic Church and even the news media all working
together to combat child exploitation.
Finally, this horrific situation can be felt even close to our homes. As reported in
the Newark Star-Ledger just days ago the effect of child labor and sex slave practices
finding their way from places like the Philippines, China and India to New Jersey is being
successfully slowed by our state’s Trafficking Victims Protection Act which provides
counseling and shelter for young foreign women under the age of 18 brought to New Jersey
and then forced into coerced sex and prostitution.