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
Children Stories  
Last of three parts

Taking on the burden of the adults, working children, whether in sugarcane fields, city pier or garbage dump, have learned to be tough to survive. But under the hardened shells, there are still children who dream and want.

BY Karl G. Ombion

Harold: Bacolod port’s “little hulk”

For five years now, since his mother died and he started working, Harold’s world has revolved around the sea port. He has no choice – his father is unemployed and he has three younger siblings to feed.

Harold earns P150 a day as a kargador, pouring eight to 10 hours of back-breaking work every day. He unloads cargos from the ship to the waiting crane or truck, or to one of the warehouses near the pier. The loads include among others, 50-kilo packs of cement, fertilizer, rice, sugar, onions, coffee beans, soya beans and flour. Every pack he hauls means .75 cents for his pocket. Each cargo shipment usually contains some 3,000 sacks of cargos. But at times, it carries only 1,000 to 2,000 sacks which means less income for Harold and other child workers. 

Harold, like the adult workers at the port, does not have social security, health insurance and other benefits. If someone meets an accident, Harold and the rest chip in to help in the hospitalization or burial.

The absence of ships in the pier is always a sad sight for Harold. In his mind is the same thing that other child laborers in the port would be thinking: “When will the next ship come? How many sacks of cargos will I be able to haul?” And their faces would be etched with sadness and uncertainty.

Tamtam: Young sakada

Tamtam, 17, started working as a sakada (seasonal farm worker) in one of the large sugar plantations in northern Negros when he was 11 years old.

The eldest of seven children, Tamtam‘s parents early on gave him the responsibility of helping solve the financial needs of the family. He quit school at fourth grade because his family could barely put food on the table much less send Tamtam to school. When he reached 11, he forced himself to find work. Lack of formal education and inexperience landed him in the nearby cane plantation where his parents also worked. 

As a sakada, Tamtam works under the pakyaw (wholesale contractual) system, the prevailing labor arrangement in the haciendas. His work consists of weeding, plowing, fertilizing and karga-tapas, the process of harvesting the sugarcane during the harvest and milling season.

A contract worth P700 (US$13 at US$1 = PhP1) to P800 for weeding a hectare of land would usually take five to six persons a week to finish. These five to six persons then divide among themselves the fee. For cutting hedges, another group of five to six persons is again contracted. This contract is worth P800 to P1000, which must also be finished in a week

Tamtam’s nails are deformed from the hard work he does. His body is frail and obviously malnourished. Tamtam always complains of chest pains he couldn’t do anything about it since his family has no money for medical check ups and his employer couldn’t care less about him, with the unlimited number of unemployed who could replace Tamtam.

“I still want to go to school, not just work here in the field,” said Tamtam. In fact, he dreams of becoming a civil engineer after meeting one during a road construction project in the hacienda.

Beboy: Stuck at the dump

At 14, Beboy, a third grader, dropped out of school to work at the dump together with his parents and other children of his age, scavenging for anything that can be sold.

By dawn everyday, he positions himself at the entrance waiting for the arrival of garbage trucks. Upon their arrival, Beboy and other scavengers would scramble after the trucks and race and outwit each other to get the “better” pieces of garbage. Whole day long, Beboy and the other children would check every pile of trash and separate those that could be sold. They would stop when it gets too dark to see.

Beboy has been working at the dump for almost three years now and has gotten used to the fetid odor, the rain, scorching heat of sun, dust, the boils that break out on his skin, the broken glasses that slice his young skin, the hunger when the scavenging results in little and other forms of hardship.  

Garbage scraps are priced depending on its use. Scrap copper is considered the most precious among metals that can be found in the dump and can be sold at P70 per kilo. Tin cans are P40 per kilo; plastic water containers or bottles,  P10 per kilo; scrap paper and cartons, P1 per kilo; and scraps of galvanized iron or steel, P5 per kilo.      

For Beboy, earning P50 a day is a big help for the family. He understands why he had to stop studying and fully accepts the need to sacrifice his education as well as his playing time.

He thinks it is okay for him to stop studying since he would not be able to afford to get into college anyway. But still, someday, he hopes to be able to finish a vocational course. Bulatlat

Related articles:

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

Tender hands that toil
Unprotected by Government Second of three parts



© 2004 Bulatlat  Alipato Publications

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