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
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
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
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
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
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
Tender hands that toil
Rising Incidence of Child Labor in Negros
First of three parts
Tender hands that toil
Second of three parts
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© 2004 Bulatlat
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