The Sugarcane children of Negros

  When we enter the classroom they are already  waiting. It’s Monday, a special and additional school day for the students who normally just come to school on Saturday. They are between 10 and 24 years old. They sit together, in one room. Some of them try to get the elementary school certificate, others are keen to reach high school level.
The students – dropouts- are children who stopped to visit school because they had to go for work during elementary school or early high school already. Many of them work in agriculture, fishing communities or business services.

Sugarcane plantations remain to be the most common place of child labour

Sugarcane covers 55% of the land. This corresponds to the half of country’s sugar production. A very few landholders, the hacienderos, hold more than 70% of the land. The sugar workers gain between $ 1 and $3 per day. Too less for living. Negros is one of the poorest islands of the Philippines. So, the fact that even 5 – 7 years old children are exposed to numerous hazards is not surprising but the result of a huge injustice in the world. 

  When we talk to them, we learn from the 24 years old student in the class: “I’m married, I have one child. But I see that my education is too low to get a permanent job. My dream is to become a marine on one of the big ships and to travel around the world. Many Phillipinos do that and they gain enough money to maintain their families.”

  For getting a certificate that allows to enter the next school level, they get individualized, module based lessons. At least 800 lessons have to be done. For all these students it is an extremely hard period. Some of them need even to walk more than an hour to reach the school – and Saturday is the only day they can make it, because the other days they all have to work. 

There are many life stories behind 

 

At work
At work
 Children of single mothers, missing care by parents, very poor families, false friends or too long distance on the way from home to school …

The dropout school has been established here since a few months only. “But in other parts of the Bangaray – the community level in the Philippines – last year even a 30 year old man has made it and got a high school certificate so that he could also continue with the college”, one of the tutors explains. 

We do not want to be behind

The motivation level of the students is high. No one of them missed so far a single lesson. They seem to be adults with a long story behind even they are still very young. 

When we ask them if the know of other children who dropped out, they simply say:”Many!” It is a very clear, but also shocking answer. 

We want to know if and how they promote the  “2nd” chance of school education: “We tell them what we do here at the dropout school, but many say it is too tiring and that they simply can’t manage it.”

Based on some experience of the past in similar projects there is hope that when the first certificates are distributed to the dropouts, also other future students will get more motivated and join. Joining the dropout school is possible all over the year…

“In some cases,” adds the teacher,”the dropout school is also a short term effort and we can bridge and bring the students back to a normal school.” 

Later on we visit an elementary school close by. There, we learn that some of the students are physically in classe only, not registered, but “they simply sleep, because they have too work during night, mostly on fishing boats. They are simply exhausted. There is a lack of health and sufficient food, too…”

Fair trade does not protect from children labour 

The cycle of children labour seems to be endless and finding a sustainable way out is impossible as long as we in the Western world do accept this injustice and go for low and unfair prices that makes it impossible to pay an acceptable income to the parents, as long as the very few and rich land farm owners and traders want the maximum of profit. Today’s business is not social or fair at all.

Did you know that Children labour is not even a mandatory criteria to be fulfilled when it comes to the fair trade certificate? 

 

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