Keynote address: Extend social protection, combat child labour

By Ms Carla Henry, Deputy Director of the ILO Country Office for the Philippines, delivered on behalf of Mr Lawrence Jeff Johnson, Director of the ILO Country Office for the Philippines at the World Day against Child Labour, Tacloban, Philippines, 12 June 2014

Statement | Tacloban, Philippines | 12 June 2014

I would like to thank the Catholic Relief Services, humanitarian partners and organizers of this week’s events who put together a full and thought-provoking programme to focus attention on child labour and how to address it in the aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda.

When disaster strikes, some of the first images the world sees are of the children. In the last year many of these images were of children from Tacloban and its neighbouring communities. Many of you not only have those pictures seared into your memory but also know their complex stories.

Disasters affect children in dramatic ways because of their high vulnerability when so much of their support world has crumbled and their loved ones can no longer provide care as they would want.

Yet, despite the obviousness of this, efforts to protect children in post-disaster situations have not yet become central to relief efforts, in part because too little is understood. Which actions work and how to fit these into a specific disaster contexts so that children are effectively targeted and benefit from protection.

Ignoring or underplaying the rights and needs of children will lead to adverse, and often long-term consequences for children, their families and communities.

There are 168 child labourers worldwide, over half are in its worst forms. These numbers are tragic, however, there is reason for hope. Between 2000 and 2012 the estimated number of child labourers has declined by one third.

Child labour remains a serious challenge in the Philippines. 3 million Filipino children are trapped in child labour at young ages, far too often under dangerous working conditions, with long hours, and exposure to harmful elements. Much of this work displaces badly needed education. The few pesos they earn cannot change their lives, the way education can.

Poverty is a root cause of child labour, which is closely linked to lack of decent and productive work, and inadequate social protection. The country has established laws and regulations on the worst forms of child labour and strong institutional mechanisms to coordinate multi-agency, multi-sector plans of action to combat child labour in its worst forms. These are being drawn upon to extend efforts to those areas hit by disaster.

How much has unacceptable forms of child labour been happening in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan?

A recent needs assessment was done by the Child Protection Working Group and Education Cluster on the situation of children affected by Haiyan in Regions 6 and 8. The study’s initial results revealed that:
  • 54 per cent of barangays responding report children participating in harsh and dangerous labour.
  • The top forms are agriculture (37 per cent), domestic work (23 per cent) and transporting of goods and people (17 per cent).
  • In Region 8, 41 per cent of barangays report that involvement has increased after Haiyan and 31 per cent report that new forms have emerged.
  • 75 per cent of barangays report children who are working are not able to go to school.
One of the more interesting findings was the main reason found for children’s involvement in harsh and dangerous labour: their involvement was reported to be largely voluntary, and based on the need to support themselves or their families (82 per cent of barangays).

The same study also found that the main source of stress for those caring for children was lost livelihoods, followed by food and shelter.

What does this tell us about the kinds of interventions needed early in a disaster response?

The collapse of family livelihoods because of a disaster needs to be addressed within days if we are to stop children from being pulled into harsh and dangerous work.

Here in Tacloban efforts have been underway to mainstream measures to address the worst forms of child labour into the broad humanitarian response and social protection measures.

One such measure is to provide vulnerable households with emergency employment that also delivers social protection coverage during the crucial few months when risks to health are highest.

Addressing the vulnerability of these affected families by providing them with immediate short-term employment and enrolling them in social protection schemes are key solutions towards addressing child labour. It is crucial to ensure that the care givers are at work and not their children, and that they have access to social protection and decent work.

The ILO has worked with the UN partners, government, employers and workers organizations, and non-government organizations to roll out as part of emergency employment schemes, short-term protection to cover health, accidents on the job, social security in the case of disability or death, and 100 per cent of the legal minimum wage.

In addition to targeting vulnerable parents, youth not in school between the ages of 15 to 17 who have no available support can be targeted for non-hazardous emergency work. To engage women-headed households with young children, child minding during the working period is also needed.

The global theme for the 2014 World Day against Child Labour is Extend Social Protection, Combat Child Labour and nowhere today are these calls more relevant than here in Tacloban.

The local governments, barangay and the humanitarian groups supporting their efforts must not be tempted to lose sight of the ongoing needs and rights of Tacloban’s youngest members as their recovery efforts turn longer term.

Your continuing and active commitment will be critical to steering Tacloban’s children clear of child labour and keeping them safe as your communities recover from the disaster.

Damo nga salamat (Thank you very much). Mabuhay!!!