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CHILDREN OF THE CANES: 2nd National Conference for the Protection and Development of Children in the Sugar Industry

More than a hundred stakeholders of Philippine sugar industry made up of Planters’ Associations, NGOs, government agencies, the academe, faith-based , workers, child laborers and youth groups gathered at the Asian Institute of Management...

More than a hundred stakeholders of Philippine sugar industry made up of Planters’ Associations, NGOs, government agencies, the academe, faith-based , workers, child laborers and  youth  groups gathered at the Asian Institute of Management last November 22, 2011 for the Children of the Canes: 2nd National Conference for the Protection and Development of Children in the Sugar Industry organized by the Laura Vicuña Foundation Inc. (LVFI) of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians. The conference was co-sponsored by ILO-IPEC Manila, Global Fund for Children, and the Asian Institute of Management (AIM).

According to the 2010 Annual Poverty Indicators Survey recently released by the National Statistics Office, roughly 6% of 29 million Filipino children aged 5 to 17 years old are working.  The Department of Labor  estimates that 2.3 million Filipino children are economically active in the agriculture industry. In a study conducted by the Center for Investigative Research and Multimedia Services (CIRMS) the rise of child labor incidences in Negros has been noticed that is 300,000 child workers in the year 2000 and  which increased 334,405 in 2004.  This is an equivalent to a 4% increase or 8,600 new child workers each year.  Child labor happens in small sugarcane farms because the farmers who till have only their children to help them do their task.

Sr. Ma. Victoria Sta. Ana, LVFI Executive Director said that this Second National Conference aimed at  providing a safe ground for a public conversation  and a call to action to the industry’s stakeholders on the growing complex issues and concerns for the protection and development of the children described by sociological studies as an industry with a “slave making character”.

Department of Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo explained that to combat child labor, proper enforcement of the laws, enabling local ordinances and a firm and stronger resolve against child labor in accordance with our commitment to the Philippine Program Against Child Labor at the LGU levels are needed. He challenged the participants to draw a roadmap that will propose possible solutions to this decades-long problem of child labor in the Philippines. He also urged the group to reach out other stakeholders by localizing or bringing down the initiatives to the particular communities where child labor is present. Robredo expressed his gratitude to organizations like the Laura Vicuna Foundation with this kind of initiative in addressing the plight of child workers in the country. In his message, he ended saying, “These children will inherit the earth from us. If we really intend to lift these young people from such deplorable conditions, let us give them and their families adequate opportunities to earn and to live.”

Meanwhile, Parisya Taradji, Department of Social Welfare and Development Assistant Secretary delivered the speech of  DSWD Secretary Dinky Soliman, explaining the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program or the 4Ps as the Department’s concrete solution to child labor. She made a great emphasis that the CCT or Conditional Cash Transfer Program may be short-termed on cash grants, however long-term being an investment for human capital development. Therefore, it is not mere dole-outs as others wrongly perceived it to be.

Undersecretary Lourdes Trasmonte of the Department of Labor and Employment presented their  project “I SERVE SACADAS” or Integrated Services for Migratory Sugar Workers which aims to improve their socio-economic condition. Through DOLE, parents of child laborers have also benefitted with their Php 5.6 million worth of projects.

“To eliminate child labor in our sugar industry is a collective responsibility of all stakeholders,” said Sugar Regulatory Administrator Regina Bautista-Martin. “More affirmative and specific actions are yet to be done. We need a comprehensive and sustainable holistic approach in addressing the deep rooted cause of this predicament,” she added.

After a short open forum where our keynote speakers bravely answered the questions, the honorable First Term Congressman of the lone district of Bacolod City, Anthony Rolando “Doc Tony” Golez Jr. addressed the assembly with his solidarity speech. He inspired everyone with his stories of hope and assured the assembly of his support in terms of legislation as a result of the recommendations that will come out of the Conference.

In the afternoon session, the NGO and private organization experts, Ms. Edith Villanueva, Executive Officer of Sugar Tripartite Council; Ms. Emy India, Senior Social Worker of Laura Vicuna Foundation; Ms. Cecil Flores-Oebanda, Executive Director and President of Visayan Forum and Ms. Rosa Manalo, Director of Human Capital Development, Pan Pacific Hotel shared their best practices in combating child labor through innovative responses like education, skills training, training and empowerment of frontline advocates and better job opportunities.

After the presentations, there was a comprehensive discussion/open forum to enrich the participants information on the innovative interventions presented.

Towards the end of the conference, a multi-sectoral workshop was conducted to discuss the proposed platform/common agenda and commitments on the current situation of the children of the canes.

The conference was a big success based on the evaluation of the participants.  The commitments of each sectoral group were presented to Sr. Sarah Garcia, FMA, President of the Laura Vicuña Foundation and Mr. Cesar Giovanni Soledad, Project Manager of ILO-IPEC Manila. Soledad reiterated, “The complex problem needs to be addressed through collaboration and integration. Let this conference not be a one-time affair but a permanent structure whose task will be to ensure that the Philippines sugar industry is totally child labour-free.

Sr. Sta. Ana thanked the participants as she addressed them, “With your commitment, we are confident that this conference will serve as another milestone in the development of these children in the years to come. We hope to meet you again for the multi-sectoral network we wish to establish as we make a follow-up of the action/covenant committed today and their concretization.”

And as a concrete response to address child labor, the Laura Vicuna Foundation has implemented its model anti-child labor program dubbed as Community Mobilization for Education (COME) Project where alternative education streams such as ALS and Technical Vocational Training Programs and the  institutionalization of local councils for the protection of children in the sugarcane plantations were established.

For its 20th anniversary, LVF launched its innovative and pioneering project, “the Child Protection Clinic on Wheels.” As it goes around the different schools, parishes and depressed communities, the CPC on wheels is another grassroots preventive strategy to fight abuse, exploitation and trafficking of children through its advocacy learning sessions, formation and mentoring of community child advocates and partners for the protection of children, and helping them set-up their own preventive alert system.

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