Barangay Antipolo, in Pontevedra, Negros Occidental, 62 kilometers south of Bacolod City, has been known as a hub of child laborers. The need to augment family income force children in the barangay to skip school and to work perilously long hours alongside their parents in sugarcane plantations.
Because of this, Brgy. Antipolo has been identified by the Department of Labor and Employment as one of those barangays in the province that needed to be freed from the worst forms of child labor. There were over a hundred of these child laborers, and so under the Department's ‘Child Labor-Free Barangay Campaign’, the DOLE moved to make Brgy. Antipolo child labor-free by 31 December 2012, the end-line of the first year of the campaign.
Towards the end of May, when Labor and Employment Secretary Rosalinda Dimapilis-Baldoz visited Negros Occidental to inaugurate the Sugar Workers Development Center in Bacolod City, she visited Brgy. Antipolo. Accompanied by DOLE Region 6 officials led by Regional Director Ponciano Ligutom, Baldoz witnessed the poor living conditions of the children and their families in the sugar farms.
Ligutom informed the Secretary that the parents of the children have expressed desire, after they have been oriented earlier on child labor and on the DOLE's campaign, to send their children back to school, provided they can have means to earn extra other than sending off their children to work in the sugarcane farms.
Baldoz directed Ligutom to train the parents in skills that will enable them to initiate income-generating activities and to provide them assistance under the DOLE Integrated Livelihood Program.
To start the barangay off the road towards becoming child-labor free, she led in the distribution of school kits to the 100 child laborers--73 of whom are of elementary school age, while 27 are of high school age.
"Your second home are the school, not the sugar plantations," Baldoz said to the children in the presence of their parents.
During the distribution of the educational school kits consisting of a back pack that contained pads of paper; pencils and pens; crayons; notebooks and envelopes; raincoats and umbrellas; tumblers; toiletry; and other school supplies, the 100 child laborers, ages 7 to 15 years old, surrendered their farm tools to the DOLE to demonstrate their willingness to leave work and go back to school this June. Their parents also pledged to ensure that they remain in the campus.
Baldoz said the DOLE is giving the children the school kits as a symbolic act of a long term commitment in the fight against child labor.
“It is about time that we take a developmental approach in helping child laborers and their parents to free our country's barangays from the bondage of child labor, particularly in its worst forms,” Baldoz said.
"Let us start one barangay at a time," she said as she called on local partners for a shared commitment and responsibility to free more barangays from child labor by removing child laborers from hazardous forms of employment.
She emphasized that partnerships with local officials and other anti-child labor advocates is necessary for the Child Labor-Free Barangay Campaign to succeed.
(with reporting from Amy Judicpa, LCO RO6)