Labor chief tags Bulacan village child labor-freeBy Carmela Reyes-Estrope
Inquirer Central Luzon
STA. MARIA, Bulacan—What used to be a community of child laborers in the firecracker industry here is now a model village, free of children covered with powdered chemicals and working in shacks many here describe as “firecracker factories.”
On Thursday, Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz declared the village of Pulong Buhangin (population: 42,000), a major producer of firecrackers and pyrotechnic products, as a child labor-free and child-friendly community after the government gave former firecracker factory workers there other means of livelihood.
Officials said that with many parents employed elsewhere, their children have also left their jobs in makeshift firecracker and pyrotechnics factories in the village. Most of these children have also returned to school.
Lyka Hermogenes, 14, a former firecracker factory worker, was thankful to village officials because she was able to study in high school. She said she has been assured a job after college.
“When I used to work in a firecracker factory, going to school was but a dream. We were used to handling powdered chemicals, not school materials. With our village officials’ help, I will finish high school in two years,” she said.
Shaina Grace Manalo, 15, who started working in a firecracker factory in Pulong Buhangin when she was 9 years old, said she and her parents have left their dangerous jobs.
Manalo returned to school while her mother, Noemi, found work in buses and transport terminals where she changes passengers’ and conductors’ bills into coins for a fee. Her father now works as a bus driver in the town.
Baldoz said working in firecracker factories, entertainment joints and prostitution dens is third among the worst forms of child labor. She said the riskiest for child laborers are agriculture work, where they are exposed to chemicals, and small-scale mining, where children are asked to enter mine tunnels or dive into mud pits using compressors.
Baldoz visited Pulong Buhangin on Thursday to distribute health kits and school materials to 20 families and their children.