Spotlight on Share a Child Movement:
Children’s Congress
In the urban areas of Cebu City, Philippines, there already is heightened awareness on child labor issues, where NGOs and local governments are working to alleviate the children’s plight. The opposite is true in mountain barangays of Cebu City, where there is widespread acceptance that child laborers form part of the local landscape caused by poverty. Distance and the lack of transportation infrastructure keep Cebu City’s mountain barangays largely isolated from urban development. While people in this area remain shielded from the problems that accompany development, the lack of economic opportunities also keeps many of the local residents mired in poverty, tied to feudalistic land leasing arrangements, and oftentimes are uneducated and illiterate.

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February 2007. Before CIRCLE partner Share A Child Movement (SCM) started work in the mountain barangays, child labor was not considered problematic, particularly by barangay officials, school authorities and parents. This was reflected in a recent survey showing a large number of children, aged 5 to 10 years, never attended school. This was attributed to poverty and not to the presence of child labor in the community.

Share A Child’s perspective on the problem was based on the hazards faced by children working in smallholder and family-owned farms. An integrated approach was formed with the community that combined Non-Formal Education - Alternative Learning System (NFE-ALS) for out-of-school working children, and advocacy, organizing, and capacity building for stakeholders. Profiling gathered information, expanded, validated and updated the results of the previous survey. The information gathered was also used to formulate anti-child labor messages for the different groups of stakeholders and prove that many children dropped out of school to work in agriculture as well as in child domestic work.

SCM organized the children to form local chapters of an advocacy group called SUPACA (the acronym for “Sugbuanong Pundok Aron Sugpuon ang Child Abuse”; it is a Bisayan word for “to resist”). SUPACA has been active in child rights advocacy since 1997, particularly in issues involving violence against children in urban communities. The capacity building for the new SUPACA upland barangay chapters began with a series of training starting with a leadership training seminar and culminating in a children’s congress in March, 2007. The objective of this activity was to help the children identify their own issues and build their own agency to lobby at barangay development councils for inclusion in the development plans.

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Forty-five out-of-school working children participated in the congress. Using objective and problem tree analysis, the children were able to identify their problems around the UNCRC’s four broad areas: survival, protection, participation, and development.

Many of the children shared that their parents are illiterate and uninformed regarding their rights, thus they were never allowed to express their own ideas in family decision-making and in the local government. On the issues of child labor, education, health and child abuse, the children traced the families’ poverty as the cause of their own child labor. As for their education, they were discouraged from continuing in school because when they left school to help their parents, they were behind in lessons,when they got back. The teachers were often insensitive and saw them as barriers to the school’s attaining their targets such as passing the marks for national assessment examinations. As a result, the teachers themselves would be the very ones to discourage them from coming back and attending classes.

Other issues that the children identified were limited facilities in schools like libraries and computers which they could use for reference and research. There were no organized activities to provide youths with opportunities for livelihood trainings as well as for positive play and recreation.

The most important result of the activity was that it marked the first time that the children were consulted and their views appreciated. For many of them, the activity added value to their own self-worth because they were no longer just passive participants. More importantly, their voices were heard and their ideas had the chance of being given their proper place.