05/12/2009, 00.00
PHILIPPINES
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Four million child slaves, exploited sexually or for their labour

by Santosh Digal
Children work in fishing, farming, mining and domestic work (with salaries of US a month). More than 100,000 of them are involved in prostitution. The Catholic Church has called on the government to implement effective measures to fight this problem.
Manila (AsiaNews) – In the Philippines children are victims of prostitution rings, sex slaves for hire, forced to work in high seas or open fields for up to 15 hours a day. They till the land, labour in the mines or scrub floors as domestic workers on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week for 15 hours a day. Child labour is a curse that touches the lives of about four million children.

When it is fishing season, more than 200,000 of them ranging from the age of 5 to 17 are exploited in the fishing industry with a typical day lasting up to 15 hours under conditions that threaten the children’s physical and psychological integrity. As a result they experience problems associated with decompression, harsh weather, cut, bruises, skin diseases, body burns, hearing impairment and paralysis, not to mention chemical and biological agents and mistreatment at the hands of employers.

According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) about a 100,000 children are involved in prostitution rings. Whether the victims ply their trade at street corners or sell their bodies in brothels, discos, massage parlours, tourist ships or boats, they get into sexual slavery to pay for school fees or help the family even if they never earn enough. Because of prostitution, which involves more girls than boys, sexually transmitted diseases like AIDS and syphilis are on the rise.

Other forms of slavery exist, that for minors are equally appalling; activities like farming. In this case, about two million children are exposed to chemical and biological agents; about 75 per cent of them are under the age of 15 and 70 per cent are boys (source: National Statistics Office).

An additional 18,000 are employed in the country’s mines and caves with ages ranging from 10 to 14 years.

Finally some 230,000 minors work as domestic help, on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for a minimum of 15-hour days, nights included. When a day off is granted, it is usually once a month. Salaries are on average about 800 pesos or US$ 16 a month. 

The Catholic Church and human rights activists have called for a common front to eradicate the curse of child exploitation.

Card Gaudencio Rosales, archbishop of Manila, has wondered “what values are prevalent” in the country, blasting his countrymen and political leaders for allowing child slavery.

The government has promised concrete steps to solve the problem, including a four-year of educational grants for poor families.

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