Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts

Vol. V,    No. 13      May 8- 14, 2005      Quezon City, Philippines











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Special Report

Tender hands that toil
Rising Incidence of Child Labor in Negros
First of three parts

Some 200 children usually gather daily and sit at the yard of the Bacolod City Reclamation Port. It is however neither the sea birds nor impressive sunset that bring smiles on their faces. Rather, it is the arrival of domestic and foreign cargo ships which, to them, means food on the table. When the ships are gone, the children go back to waiting, uncertain where their next meal would come.

BY Karl G. Ombion

BACOLOD CITY - Children work for many reasons, the most prevalent reason being poverty. Though their incomes do not suffice to meet even their personal needs, they still serve as regular contributors to the family income.

There are many people though, especially among the rural poor, who do not see anything wrong with child labor because of the pervasive thinking that work is integral to the child’s development. In fact, it is also a widely accepted view that children, young as they are, must help for the family’s survival.

Rising number

Based on the 2000 survey of the International Labor Organization (ILO) and National Statistics Office (NSO) and studies by the Bacolod-based research group Center for Investigative Research and Multimedia Services (CIRMS), around four million or 16.2 percent  of the 24.9 million Filipino children (aged five to 17 years) work. 

Child stevedore
Photo courtesy of CIRMS

This reflects a significant increase from the 1995 ILO and NSO surveys wherein 3.6 million child workers were documented. The age group of 10-14 years accounted for 48 percent of the working children while the age group of 15-17 years accounted for 46 percent.

There were more child male workers than child female workers. The gender ratio showed 173 male child workers for every 100 child female workers.

Based on geographic distribution, about 70 percent child laborers were found in rural areas and only 30 percent in urban areas. Urban-based child workers were a little older than their rural counterparts: the average age of urban-based child workers is 15 while the rural average age is 14. 

Child labor in Negros

The regions with the highest incidence of child labor are: Southern Tagalog or Region IV (11.5 percent), Central Visayas or Region VII (9.7 percent), Eastern Visayas or Region VIII (8.7 percent), Bicol or Region V (8.6 percent), Southern Mindanao or Region XI (8.5 percent) and Negros-Panay or Region VI (7.9 percent).

For Negrenses, the incidence of child labor has reached alarming proportions. In 2000, there were only around 300,000 working children (aged five to 17 years) out of the 831,542 children in Negros. The CIRMS study reveals that as of end 2004, the number of child workers in Negros has already reached 334,405. This means a 4 percent increase or an average of 8,600 new child workers every year.

In the entire region, male children (51 percent) are 2 percent ahead of their female counterpart (49 percent). The gender ratio in the region is 103 male child workers for every 100 female child workers. 


Nearly 15 percent of Negros Occidental’s working children are in the capital city of Bacolod. The rest are in the northern cities of Cadiz (5.61 percent), Sagay City (5.18 percent), San Carlos City (4.88 percent), Silay City (3.89 percent), Escalante City (3.18 percent) and Calatrava (3.18 per cent). In the south, they are mostly in Kabankalan City (6.34 percent), Bago City (5.53 percent) and Himamaylan (3.63 percent).

The higher child labor incidence in northern Negros is mainly because of the presence of sugar plantations that employ children farm workers.

Meanwhile, the province of Negros Oriental registered the highest number of child labor incidence at 197,283, compared to Negros Occidental’s 137,122. This means one in every two children aged 5-17 in Negros Oriental is a child worker.  Based on the projected provincial population for 2004 of 1,258,064, almost 32 percent (397,283) are children 5-17 years old. Of this number, almost half (49.78 percent) work. 

The number of working children in Negros Oriental significantly increased to 197,778 based on 2004 projected provincial population. They are mostly found in two major cities of the province, namely, Dumaguete (9.08 percent) and Bayawan (9 percent). The municipalities with high numbers of child workers are Guihulngan (7.41 percent), Tanjay (6.23 percent), Bais (6.04 percent), Sta. Catalina (5.97 percent), Mabinay (5.72 percent) and Siaton (5.71 percent). 


CIRMS reveals that 64 percent of Negros’ working children are rural-based. Majority or 26 percent are “employed” in sugar plantations engaged in weeding, plowing, cane cutting, fertilizing and hauling during harvest season. Fourteen percent on the other hand work in rice, corn, orchard farms; 11 percent in commercial fishing as helpers and divers in trawls, haul boats, fishing boats and fishponds; 3 percent in various rural odd jobs like charcoal making, woodcutting, vending, small-scale mining and helper in public utility jeepneys; and 1 percent in domestic work.

Meanwhile, 36 percent are urban-based working children. Of these, majority are in street vending (fish, food and similar items). The rest are in pedicab driving, domestic work, scavenging and various odd jobs, such as in small eateries (dishwashing, cleaning and errand work); commercial ports (kargador or pier workhand); bus/jeep terminals (as baggage hauler, dispatcher and conductor); pyrotechnics (firecrackers making); and small handicrafts (as helpers, cleaners and errand boys/girls). A small percentage is in the sex trade (pub houses and prostitution dens) and entertainment industry (showbiz, fiestas and public shows). Bulatlat

Related articles:

Tender hands that toil
Unprotected by Government Second of three parts

Tender hands that toil
Children Stories  Last of three parts



© 2004 Bulatlat  Alipato Publications

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