For majority of the people inside the court, the sacks may not have meaning but for their former owners it was their lifeline. What is strange about it is that those sacks used to be owned by 27 child labourers who collect coal scraps from mine wastes dumping sites to be sold to buyers at Php 2 pesos per sack. some of them, in their teens, are labourers in small-scale coal mine pits.
The scene was heartbreaking especially seeing kids aged 7 to 10 in their frail bodies who are brave enough to present their selves and hand over the sacks in exchange for backpacks filled with school supplies. For some of these children, it was their first time to own a backpack. It brought smiles of happiness that are very evident in their faces.
Mrs. Arlyn Lumayag, a mother of a child laborer gave her response after the symbolic exchange of sacks and backpacks. Tearfully she shared her story of letting her kids scavenge scrap coals for food and for schooling needs. Even though she resented it but sometimes she cannot control them especially when she cannot provide for their needs. She also added that she was thankful that finally the DOLE has come to their place and heard their concerns. Some parents in the audience who can relate to her stories also cried with her.
In his speech, Butong Punong Barangay Herenito Villares admitted that these incidents are happening because of poverty. They have already implemented measures to stop and prevent these cases from happening but to no avail as they cannot watch the pits and dumping sites for 24 hours. Some parents also question the fairness of the law because they see their teenage kids as their assistants who help them provide their family’s daily needs and if these young boys will stop working it will be doubly hard for their family to survive.
Mrs. Helen V. Dungog, Sanggunian Bayan member and Chairperson on Social Concerns fervently talked about the efforts of the local government unit in stopping child-labor but due to lack of funds for livelihood support for affected families and lack of support from the national government they felt that their efforts were ineffective.
Taking from the comments of the local officials, Regional Director Sisinio B. Cano of DOLE 9 posted a challenge to various stakeholders to converge their services and join hands in assisting Barangay Butong to prevent if not eliminate child labor from happening in the community or even in the municipality. The DOLE as the lead agency of this program will spearhead in different activities but in order for the program to become successful the DOLE needs committed partners who will help in the implementation which aims to advocate a common understanding of the campaign for a child-labor free barangay down to the grassroots level.
To formally forge their support FOR the program the leaders of various stakeholders which include (no S) the MSWD, DILG, PNP, DepEd, Liga ng mga Barangay, people’s Organizations, local churches and the community affixed their signatures in the large tarpaulin which contain inscriptions of actions to attain a child labor-free barangay.
The half-day event ended through a community song and lighting of candles which signify unity of action towards attaining a child labor-free barangay and provide guidance to child-laborers and their families to take positive steps towards transformation and empowerment and stopping child labor.