There are many corporations throughout the nations that exploit children living in poverty. Although I cannot speak for all facets of child labor, there is a side of child labor that is not often talked about that I have recently felt the need to address. This issue is often ignored in light of the sensationalism by the media when reporting about the gross exploitation by these mega-companies - to the children living in squalor, struggling for every crumb, child labor seems like a necessity.
I have now lived in the Philippines for close to four years. My job is to go into the squatter, or slum, areas and do Sidewalk Sunday School for kids who live in extreme poverty. Metro World Child Philippines alone, reaches approximately 20,000 children a week throughout this nation.
Bringing hope to seemingly hopeless communities is my job. It's my passion. And here in the Philippines, I have seen the true face of child labor. Before I came here, I had read a few articles on companies that have been exposed for using child labor as a means to cut labor cost. Alongside millions of others, I read those with disgust and a righteous anger, determined to never support those companies by knowingly setting foot in them.
And I would recommend everyone read up on those companies. There is no excuse for an American or European company taking advantage of poverty. Neither does an educated person have an excuse to shop those companies after knowing the truth.
But I want to shed light on a topic that is not usually spoken about - What can we do then to help these children who rely on those pittance wages for daily survival?
Here in the Philippines, I am confronted with some form of child labor almost every single day. But it does not look like the child labor that is usually exposed through under cover articles and the like.
I see children selling bottled water and soft drinks to people stuck in traffic. Children walking around barefooted near trash dumps looking for plastic bottles and nails that they can sell at recycle shops for 2 pesos a kilo. Children walking around selling flowers for 10 to 20 pesos. Fishing all day for clams that they can sell at the fish ports. Selling bread that their mom baked, from 3AM in the morning so that they will have enough money for that day.
No evil mega corporation is hiring them or exploiting them. They are doing this for such a simple reason. Their family is struggling to survive. Some of these kids do this after they get home from school, or on weekends to help out. Some do it instead of going to school all together.
The question I am asked most often by visitors, is whether or not kids here have to pay for education. Is the reason they don't attend school because they have to pay for it? Any parent of school age children reading this will heartily agree that even public school is far from free. Uniforms (a requirement here), shoes, backpacks, pencils, erasers, crayons, notebooks, school lunches, supplies for projects, the internet that older kids need in order to do research for their projects, none of those things are free. In fact, they are downright expensive. And that is the case in the Philippines as well. Public school is free. But the things they need for it, are not.
So even if it only averaged out to $15 a week that a parent would have to spend in order to send a child to school, if as a parent you are faced with whether to send one of your five kids to school with that $15 or to feed your entire family rice because you can't afford anything else, what would you choose? The answer is actually quite simple. You feed your family. Because at that point, it is not about desiring the "best" for your children. It is a matter of survival.
So then that 9 year old boy who live in a shack on the side of the road, that would like to attend school and become the next president of the Philippines, who is actually quite smart, but loves his parents, and his siblings offers to his mom "Don't worry mom. I'll go out starting tomorrow to get money for the family." He feels the need to work.
From his perspective, he sees the need for child labor.
A sixteen year old boy that I work with just got a job for the summer since he is out of school and can help his family. It is a local business, not a foreign company. And although the minimum wage here is approximately Php460 a day, for a twelve hour work day, he is being paid Php150 a day. That is barely more than $3. For the day.
As I was sitting here writing this, a thirteen year old boy came and asked me to buy flowers from him. I asked him if his parents had a job, and what he would spend the money for. He insisted it would be for "bigas". Rice. I made him promise that is what he would spend it for, and gave him 20 pesos. I told him that he didn't need to give me the flowers, but he gratefully gave me the flowers anyway. That was after two other boys had come to sell me their own flowers. I gave them the two packs of crackers I had with me for that exact reason.
It breaks my heart. It makes me angry.
And I know it does the same for you. So I challenge you today. Some of you reading this already sponsor a child. And for that, from the bottom of our hearts, “Thank you”. We could not do what we do without you. But let me be so bold as to go one step further.
Let yourself be confronted with the reality of this situation. It is easier to look away and not acknowledge that this is the reality for millions of families around the globe. That they all have names and faces. And so many of them are the exact same age as your own kids. And although it would mean you might have to give up getting that latte a few times a week, or even that pizza night – you can help. You could quite literally change someone’s life by helping put them through school.
I used to think, and I think many others do to, that if I didn’t give, someone else would. Here, seeing these children pick up all kinds of jobs to try and make ends meet, I was confronted with a harsh reality. If I don’t give, no one else did. I see kids every single day that don’t go to school. Cannot read. Cannot even write their name. Why? Because they can’t afford to go to school.
Metro World Child goes into these areas day after day, week after week in order to provide hope. The staff do an incredible job of making that happen. But we need your help in order to build their future. For only $28 a month you can sponsor a child. For $400 a year you can send a child to school. That amount could mean the difference between them becoming scavengers (people that look through trash for recyclables), or being able to get a job because they graduated high school.
Furthermore, I challenge you today to choose. Choose to share this knowledge. Choose to give a one-time donation that will help a child even if you can’t help monthly. Choose to get your church, your class, your youth group, your kids church, involved. In whatever capacity you are able, choose to make a difference. It is true that you won't be able to change the world, or the reality that many people live in. But if enough people just do a small part, it could result in something incredible.