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Philippines to curb worst forms of child labor

MANILA, April 5, 2011 (AFP) – The Philippines has vowed to crackdown on the worst forms of child labor under a new program for its estimated 2.4 million underage workers, officials said Tuesday.

The scheme aims to halve the number of children working in dangerous areas such as the sex trade, mining, as child soldiers or in factories making home-made firecrackers by 2016, Labor Undersecretary Lourdes Trasmonte said.

“We hope to rescue children from the worst forms of child labor.” Trasmonte told a news conference. “It’s a do-able plan.”

To gauge the scale of the problem, Manila and the International Labor Organisation (ILO) will count all child workers in the Philippines and sort them by profession.

Backed by business groups, unions, non-governmental organizations and the ILO, the program also calls for stricter enforcement of child labor laws and for alternative employment to be identified for child workers’ families.

Trasmonte said widespread poverty made fighting child labor more challenging in a country where more than 23 million people – or 26.5 percent of the population – survive on around 46 pesos ($1) a day or less.

Although it is illegal, thousands of Filipino children work as domestic helpers, agricultural workers, street vendors, laborers as well as the more dangerous areas targeted by the government.

“The root cause is still poverty. The only asset the poor have is their labor. Children are brought in to work because that is the only asset the family has,” she added.

Rodel Morcozo, a former child worker, recalled how he worked in an illegal gold mine at age 10, carrying equipment and mixing toxic mercury with his bare hands.

He told reporters he had heard even more child laborers were now working in the mines, lured by the belief they could get rich and help their parents and siblings.

ILO country director Lawrence Jeff Johnson cited some local progress in the global campaign, recalling that the number of child workers had dropped 40 percent over nine years from four million in 2001.

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