Photo @ Tdh / Emergency Philippines.

Angelo, 16, manages a kiosk selling rice and snacks outside his local barangay council’s meeting room. Supported by the council, together with Plan International’s Child Labour programme, Angelo’s microenterprise is flourishing. He brings home at least $4 USD per day: easily enough to support his family and build up some savings. In the afternoon, a teacher visits Angelo and a group of young people in his community. They are studying for vocational qualifications as part of a government-sponsored “Alternative Learning System”.  Angelo is learning book keeping and hopes to become an accountant.

Before setting up his microenterprise, Angelo had been working in deep-sea fishing with his uncle Mark. The long night shifts from 6pm to 5am meant that Angelo was out of school. Some of the boys working on the boats were as young as 7 or 8.

Deep-sea fishing is notoriously dangerous. Workers dive up to 15 metres to chase fish into nets. Without protective gear, children face various dangers and injuries, including drowning, shark bites and ear damage.

Typhoon Haiyan, locally named Typhoon Yolanda, is one of the strongest tropical storms on record. On November 8 2013, it devastated parts of the Philippines.

“In early 2014, Plan International, the Government and other child rights agencies assessed what was needed to protect children – to keep them in school and get those who had already left back into education or training” said Sindypearl Pelongo, National Child Protection in Emergencies Specialist at Plan International Philippines.

The Child Protection Area of Responsibility and the Education Cluster’s joint assessment highlighted child labour as an area of concern, with 39% respondents reporting an increase in ‘harsh or dangerous labour’. In 75% barangays (villages), respondents reported children out of school and working.

Jeisa Muldez, a Plan International social worker, said

Child labour in the Philippines is nothing new (…) In the aftermath of Yolanda – as often happens in humanitarian settings – we saw several existing child protection issues worsen. Child labour was one such issue.

The Philippines is home to more than 36 million children. Over a quarter live in poverty, which Jeisa identifies as “the root cause of child labour”. As many as 5.5 million children in the country work; 3 million in dangerous conditions. “Working children face multiple protection concerns,” says Jeisa. “They may work long hours without breaks or overnight, use hazardous chemicals or dangerous tools, or face abuse from employers. Many working children are deprived of an education. Separation from families, communities and other support networks increases vulnerability to trafficking and many kinds of violence.”

“The Worst Forms of Child Labour are quite common in the communities we work with: children farm sugarcane and tobacco, or mine for gold. Deep sea fishing is also common, as is construction work and quarrying for gravel” says Jeisa.

“Plan International initiated an 18-month integrated recovery programme with Education, Livelihoods and anti-trafficking projects. The CPMS guided us throughout the process.

Child labour laws were in place before Haiyan, but enforcement was patchy across the regions. Our efforts really focused on working with the government to strengthen existing systems to address child labour, especially its worst forms, and keep children in school. We concentrated on building local and national capacity – from the barangay up to municipal government. At the end of the 18-month project, our aim was to leave robust, local capacity for addressing and preventing child labour.

Jeisa said, “I lead a team of social workers responsible for identifying child labour cases. Government intervention teams are multi-disciplinary: including at least one social worker, a health officer and a women and children’s protection officer. At the regional level, we work closely with the government departments of labour and employment, education, and the department for social welfare and development. We make extensive use of the Child Protection Minimum Standards (CPMS) (…) We consulted Standard 14 on Child Labour, of course, but I can say we regularly consult the whole manual (…) Child protection risks are interconnected — the CPMS are useful because they encourage practitioners to consider the whole picture, the whole response.”

“In the early stages of the project, the CPMS were used to structure assessment, coordination and capacity building efforts. We consulted almost all Standards when we designed the 18-month recovery programme, especially Case Management, Unaccompanied and Separated Children, Child Friendly Spaces and Community-based Child Protection Mechanisms.”

“I found the CPMS particularly useful when analyzing training needs”, adds Jeisa. “I consulted the Standards on Case Management, Coordination and Community-based Child Protection Mechanisms when developing local capacity building plans for our intervention teams.”

“An example? Representatives from the global CPWG (now the Alliance for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action) joined a regional meeting on juvenile justice. We used Standard 14 on Justice for children to advocate for a revision and reorientation of Filipino juvenile justice policy – towards a more restorative model”.

Working children in the Philippines run a high risk of coming into contact with the law: as both victims and offenders. Working children on the streets may engage in petty crime, and those engaged in the worst forms of child labour are exposed to multiple forms of illicit activity. In the typhoon-affected Visayas region of the Philippines, Plan International worked to strengthen the referral and response mechanisms of child labourers including their access to restorative justice.

The project has significantly strengthened community-based child protection mechanisms, as well as social workers’ capacity to monitor and manage cases: “We ran awareness raising sessions for parents throughout the project, in collaboration with the barangay child protection councils” says Sindypearl. “Community members are now equipped with a basic understanding of child labour law.”

Child participation was emphasized throughout, aiming for peer-to-peer identification of working children. “Children themselves recognize child labour, and they know who to speak to”, says Jeisa. “Plan International staff then intervene to assess the situation. We are currently supporting the government Department for Social Welfare and Development in managing these cases.”

The main obstacle to meeting working children’s needs in the Filipino context, according to Jeisa and Sindypearl, remains the disparity between referrals made and support available: “It’s a big challenge” says Sindypearl. “The CPMS helped us structure the project with a focus on sustainability. A major focus has been awareness raising — building local capacity to identify and respond to child labour issues. This includes identifying children at risk of getting involved in the worst forms of child labour.”

Over the course of Haiyan emergency response, the global Child Labour Task Force under the former Child Protection Working Group (now the Alliance for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action) initiated the development of interagency guidance on child labour in humanitarian settings, taking CPMS Standard 12 on Child Labour as a starting point. This was a collective response to the growing recognition that emergency responders needed more guidance on preparedness and response actions to prevent the rise of the worst forms of child labour in the aftermath of humanitarian emergencies. As part of this project, an interagency workshop was held in July 2014 with regional child protection, education and labour actors in the region to provide strategic recommendations for tackling child labour in post-typhoon Haiyan. In April 2016, Plan International organized a “lessons learned” workshop with the same regional actors to evaluate the biggest achievements, gaps and challenges in the child labour response. Some of these learnings were included in the final interagency guidance on Protecting the Needs of Child Labourers in emergencies. The toolkit will be field-tested in 2017.

Interagency Toolkit: Supporting the Protection Needs of Child Labourers in Emergencies

For further information, please contact Lotte Claessens, Child Protection in Emergencies Advisor at Plan International Sweden: Lotte.Claessens (at) plansverige.org