The Philippines is one of over 120 countries where the “worst forms of child labor” continue to exist, perpetuating a cycle of poverty and often denying children the chance to attend school and learn the skills they need to become productive adults, said a US Department of Labor report.

The exploitation of an undisclosed number of Filipino children in prostitution, pornography and sex tourism industries, as well as agriculture, domestic work, drug trafficking and child soldiering, is a “significant problem” in the country, said the report, which is posted on the Web site of the US Embassy in Manila.

The report, titled “Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor,” was forwarded last December 15 by US Labor Secretary Hilda Solis to US Vice President Joseph Biden and to the US Senate and House of Representatives.

In the 753-page report, which contained profiles of at least 125 countries, seven pages were devoted to the child labor situation in the Philippines.

Three other Asian countries—Indonesia, Thailand and Cambodia—were also featured in the report. There was no mention of child labor in Myanmar, Vietnam, Laos, Singapore, Malaysia, and Brunei Darussalam.

According to the US labor department, Filipino children, “primarily girls, are trafficked from rural to urban areas for forced domestic service and commercial sex exploitation.  There are no reports of children in the government Armed Forces in the Philippines, but child soldiering is a problem among anti-government and terrorist organizations.  “The secessionist Moro Islamic Liberation Front has made commitments to stop the recruitment and use of children as child soldiers, but the current status of children in its ranks is unclear,” said the agency.

It said both the Abu Sayyaf Group and New People’s Army, “both terrorist organizations, continue to recruit and use child soldiers.”

The report also disclosed that many Filipino children are exploited in agriculture, “where they often work long hours, perform physically arduous tasks, use dangerous tools, and face a high risk of occupational injury.”

“Children work in the production of bananas, coconuts, corn, rice, rubber, sugarcane, tobacco, and other fruits and vegetables. Children are also commonly employed as domestic servants, or kasambahays. Many child domestics work long hours and their isolation in homes makes them susceptible to sexual harassment and physical abuse. Domestic workers are sometimes subjected to forced labor,” the report said.  Here, children are “also involved in compressor mining to extract gold, which requires them to dive into pools of mud using an oxygen tube,” it added.

“Deep-sea fishing is another pursuit in which children participate in two different dangerous activities. They dive from platforms to cast and retrieve nets in deep waters and they drag nets alongside boats, which can result in falls, drowning and injuries from the nets such as burns and entanglement,” said the report.  Some Filipino children also “work in home-based manufacturing industries that range from making fireworks to fashion accessories.”

“This work can be harmful because children, particularly migrants, work longer hours than allowed with no supervision. Rural to urban migration has swollen the ranks of the urban poor, adding to the number of children who may be found living, working, scavenging, and begging on the streets and exposed to multiple dangers, including criminal elements and severe weather,” the report said.

The report noted that the Philippine government has “strengthened its legal and policy framework to combat the worst forms of child labor by creating anti-child pornography legislation and granting labor inspectors the authority to close businesses violating child labor laws.”

It cited the establishment of the multi-agency National Child Labor Committee (NCLC) which is tasked to coordinate efforts to combat child labor here. Headed by the Department of Labor and Employment, NCLC also groups the departments of education, health, justice, and social welfare and development.

But “significant gaps remain in child labor law enforcement efforts (while) existing social protection programs are not sufficient to prevent and eliminate the worst forms of child labor,” it said.

The Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking coordinates and oversees government efforts to combat child trafficking. However, the body “did not receive any funding from the national government in 2009 and 2010, but did get funding from the Office of the President and PAGCOR,” the report said.

The Philippine National Police is the main anti-child trafficking enforcement agency, but it has “no centralized hotline to report trafficking cases,” added the report.

“Children are trafficked for both sex and labor in the Philippines, but convictions have been limited to cases of sex trafficking,” it pointed out.

In 2002, the Philippines became the first country in Southeast Asia and fourth in the world to launch a time-bound program and commit to a 75-percent reduction of the worst forms of child labor.

“While the government made efforts to reach vulnerable children and combat child labor, existing resources and social programs are insufficient to reach the large number of children engaged in or at risk of the worst forms of child labor in the country,” said the US agency.

For the period 2002-2013, Washington has set aside $22.4 million (about P992.3 million) to help Manila combat child labor.

Solis said US aid “helps families to improve their livelihoods and places children into valuable educational programs, keeping them out of dangerous and degrading work environments.”

“We believe we can make an enormous difference in the lives of tens of millions of children (worldwide) for whom there is no time to lose,” she added.

In 2008, the International Labor Organization said more than half of the 215 million-plus child laborers worldwide were doing hazardous work.

ILO member-states, including the Philippines, have set a global action plan to eliminate the worst forms of child labor by 2016.