By Ana Olivia A. Tirona, Researcher
Child labor in the Philippines increased in 2021, with more children engaged in hazardous jobs compared to the previous year, data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) showed.
The statistics agency said children, those five to 17 years old, are considered to be working if they are engaged in a family business or any job, regardless of pay, for at least one hour per week.
In 2021, it was estimated that 4.3% (or 1.37 million) of the 31.64 million children were already working. This was higher than the proportion of working children in 2020 (872,333) and 2021 (1.05 million).
Ateneo Center for Economic Research and Development Director Ser Percival K. Peña-Reyes said in a Viber call that the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) was probably why more children worked in 2021 compared to the previous year.
To recall, the country was under the strictest form of lockdown in 2020. This restricted mobility and limited businesses to operate, while families were also advised to stay indoors.
By major sector, more children were found working in the agriculture sector (45.7% of the working underage population). This was followed by the services (45.4%) and industry (9.0%).
Mr. Percival noted that the agriculture sector was labor-intensive and was mostly run by Filipino families, therefore needing all the physical labor they could get.
“Remember, the greatest asset of the agriculture sector is human resources—physical labor. More than the equipment or machines, mainly because they don’t have access to technology or machinery. They also tend to have large family sizes; they would need all the help in their farming business,” Mr. Percival said.
In 2021, among the total number of working children, it was estimated that 55.9% worked for 20 hours or less per week. This was more than the 53.0% estimate for 2020 but smaller than the 69.6% estimate for 2019.
By region, it was found that child workers are most likely located in the Northern Mindanao Region, with 12.5% of the said population. The Caraga Region came in second with 11.1% and the Socskasargen region with 7.4% in 2021.
The PSA defines child labor as those involved in hazardous work or labor done in a hazardous environment and work done for more than 40 hours that subject the child to “any form of exploitation” and harm to their safety and health.
Likewise, PSA data also show that child laborers increased to 935,120 in 2021, or 68.4% of the total working child population. This was larger than the 596,919 in 2020 and the 640,066 in 2019.
Further, more child laborers were found in the agricultural sector, accounting for 61.9% of the child labor population, but this is still smaller than the 63.6% in 2020. Meanwhile, services stood at 31.9% and industry at 6.1%.
“Especially during the pandemic, they need to produce food because it’s a basic necessity. They had to muster all the human resources they could get, which led to children being engaged in work. And at a time when we need to focus on food production, they need all the physical labor they can get,” Mr. Percival added.
The PSA also noted some agriculture activities, such as farming and plant growing, are harmful to underage persons.
Further, Northern Mindanao Region had the highest child laborers share at 14.8%. This was followed by the Central Visayas (10.0%) and the Caraga region (8.5%).