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At a glance: Philippines

A child labourer leaves the streets behind and succeeds in school in the Philippines

© Pangarap Foundation/2010
Thanks to intervention and support from the Pangarap Foundation, an NGO in Manila, the Philippines, former child labourer Arcy Nino Ortonio is now in his second year for a Bachelor of Science in Marine Technology.

NEW YORK, USA, 30 June 2010 – Arcy Nino Ortonio, now 19, is in his second year of college in the Philippines, taking courses in maritime studies so that he can work on a ship as a deck officer and move up the ranks. But less than 15 years ago, when Arcy was just a young child, he worked two jobs to help pay his grade-school fees and his future was uncertain.

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Arcy’s father died when the boy was three years old. At the age of five, Arcy started working in the local harbour, cleaning boats. He got up early, worked before school every day and still managed to attend his classes.

By the age of eight, however, Arcy didn’t have much time to complete on his homework because he was working another job in the evenings, often staying until 10 p.m. or midnight. The $6 to $10 dollars he earned each day went toward his school fees. But working so many hours left little room for other activities.

“I had no time to study my lessons,” Arcy recalled.

Work on the streets

Almost half the population of the Philippines lives on less than $2 a day, with around a quarter of the country under the international poverty line of $1.25 a day. This economic reality has contributed to a high number of children being pushed to work to help support their families – sometimes in dangerous or potentially abusive or exploitative situations.

© UNICEF Philiipines/2010
The combination of school fees and household poverty keeps many children out of school and working in the Philippines and other developing countries.

Arcy is one of many Filipino children who sell cigarettes, candy and flowers on the streets of Manila. Without the job, he said, his mother would not have been able to afford the school fees needed to send him to primary school.

Many of his teachers felt sorry for him, so they passed him to the next level regardless of the time he was able to devote to his coursework.

Services for young people

In both urban and rural areas of the Philippines, an estimated 4 million children between the ages of 5 and 17 work. Many young street vendors help support their families and cannot continue with their own education. What’s more, street children often end up as criminals, addicted to drugs or in jail.

© UNICEF Philippines/2004/Alquinto
In both urban and rural areas of the Philippines, about 4 million children between the ages of 5 and 17 now work.

When Arcy turned 12, he met a street educator from the Pangarap Foundation, a non-governmental organization that works to help get young people off the streets. The foundation provides Arcy and other former street children with food, shelter, clothing, medical care, education and life skills.

Today, Arcy is now an active member of the Pangarap Foundation’s choir, drama and dance groups. He’s now aware of his rights and responsibilities in the world. Once he finishes his studies, he will have the opportunity for a bright future working aboard a ship, earning a good salary and supporting himself and his family.

School fee abolition

For other child labourers who are still out of school, there is hope in the School Fee Abolition Initiative, launched as part of the global movement to remove cost barriers that can make it difficult for parents to send their children to school.

“The abolition of school fees is an important stepping-stone to achieve the Millennium Development Goal of universal primary education for all children,” said UNICEF Senior Education Advisor Dina Craissati – one of the many advocates who believe school-fee abolition can help developing countries reach the MDG target of universal access to primary education by 2015.




15 June 2010: UNICEF Radio talks to former Filipino child labourer Arcy Nino Ontonio about working two jobs while he was in primary school.
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