Child Labor Still Exists, If You Forgot
For many Americans, the concept of child labor feels distant, a rarity reserved for the impoverished abroad. Seldom does one see a child work in this country, thanks to prohibitive laws and higher quality of living, although it does exist in pockets.
On an extended trip home to the Philippines, a different reality set in. Outside a church near Malacanan Palace, the Philippine equivalent of the White House, I met a seven-year-old boy washing a car with his mother while his younger siblings watched and his father offered parking to those who drove by. The mother admitted that she, her husband, and their seven children live on the streets.
The boy, who I will refer to as Michael, flashed me a glowing smile, despite the heat and his evident fatigue. In a day, he and his mother will usually only wash two cars using public utility water nearby. He receives P50 for his day’s work, only a little over $1. Thankfully Michael does attend school in the afternoon, but only on days he can earn his baon, or pocket money. His mother says on those days they cannot afford for him to eat with the other students at school.
All the while, Michael’s little sister hovers around wondering what the fuss is about. Although she spends the day watching her mother and brother wash cars, she giddily hops around like any other toddler.
The height of Philippine power sits not 5km away, and yet children slave alongside their families for a chance at living. Michael's situation seems brighter than those who live in rural areas, where "child workers are exposed to extreme weather conditions, long working hours, and harsh environments while using substandard tools and equipment. In plantations, trucks would pick children from their homes and bring them to makeshift tents that are located in nearby provinces to stay and work there from two weeks to one month without their parents." 2.1 million child laborers work in the Philippines alone, many as young as five years old.
That being said, the Philippines is a trail blazer of institutional reform of child labor. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, "The Philippines is the only country in Asia and the Pacific Region, which received an assessment of ‘significant advancement’ for making several tangible efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labor." Pres. Benigno S. Aquino III has been integral in reducing exploitive child labor, specifically the “Convergence Program Against Child Labor, 2013-206,” a program that assists local governments in creating child-labor free communities.
Unfortunately, I interviewed another child, whom I will call John, to different results. John accompanies his young mother, who appears barely older than twenty, around my house's subdivision, collecting garbage in a rusty metal cart. He lives in a small shack in the back of the neighborhood, with his parents and siblings, its size no bigger than the average college dorm room. I asked him the same questions I had asked Michael, but John could barely give a response. His voice was quiet and shy and visibly startled by the experience. He had likely never spoken with a woman with an American accent before or even spoken to the residents of that neighborhood. I wanted to speak with him further but I decided against it for fear of scaring him.
Not only does labor inhibit children from seeking an education that could improve their future, it robs them of confidence, innocence, and excitement. With the childhoods they deserve, Michael and John could shine even brighter. In the first world, it is easy to take for granted the education we receive and wealth we possess. However, our brothers and sisters in not only the Philippines, but in the rest of Asia, Africa, Latin America, and Europe suffer heavily only to experience a fraction of the luxuries readily available to us in the States.