Too much ado about child labor – Atty JBJ

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Too much ado about child labor
by: Atty JB Jimenez
Source: DIRECT FROM THE LABOR FRONT By Atty Josephus Jimenez

Is child labor really that big deal of a national problem that our labor officials and their underlings should be spending a lot of time, effort and money trying to make it appear bigger than unemployment, underemployment or child trafficking. With all due respect to the well-meaning advocates against this so-called national menace, the labor front believes that child labor has many redeeming values that, to our mind, far outweigh the alleged pernicious effects of this phenomenon, if any. We firmly believe that there is nothing wrong when children are made to work within the capacity of their physical, mental and emotional make-up. It is our well-considered view, without fear of any plausible contradiction, that in the long run, child labor can even be good for the nation and for the people.

I should know whereof I speak and whereof I write. I was a child laborer myself in my tender years. And I am immensely proud of it. It built my character. It formed my values and it prepared me adequately for my adulthood. I dare say that my own experience as child laborer led me to appreciate the dignity of labor and the vital importance of work. I was a farm worker at the age of 8 in the mountain cornfields of my parents in Langin, Ronda, Cebu. I was a school janitor in the high school library in Southwestern University when I was only 12. I worked my way to finish high school. I worked as a court interpreter in the City Court of Cebu, while studying law in UV at night. I lived in the urban poor settlement in B. Rodriguez. I had no running water or electric light. I lived in a shanty alone and studied under the light of a kerosene lamp. But I am proud of all that I went through.

Because of my difficult life in childhood, I became a strong-willed, determined and persevering person. I finished my law, Magna Cum Laude and Class Valedictorian besting the rich and the famous. I became a lawyer at the age of 24, without even taking a Bar review in Manila, which I could not afford, and gained a Presidential appointment as Labor Arbiter (equal in rank to a Regional Trial Court Judge) at the age of 27. I became a Personnel Manager of Petron (then Petrophil) and PNOC in my early thirties. And San Miguel Corporation offered me a job as Director for Labor and Employee Relations, with the rank of Asst Vice President at 35. I was given a check of P1 million by Pepsi Cola as a signing bonus for accepting my appointment as Vice President for HR and Legal in my early forties. I was appointed by the President as Undersecretary of DOLE, without any politician endorsing me. Why did I achieve all that? It is because I was a child laborer and I gained all my credentials working hard on my own merit.

Those difficult years of tremendous burdens were my baptism of fire that prepared me well for the real battles in the war zones of life. The work experience empowered me to work harder than others, to stay longer in the work place when all others have already gone home or taken a break, walked many extra miles while all the rest were already relaxing in their comfort zones. I always demand perfection and excellence from myself and not just complied with minimum standards. There were a lot of odds and obstacles but I fought my way like a wounded tiger and achieved many things that scions of well-heeled families couldn’t even dare to tread.

Therefore, I cannot understand nor will I ever accept the view that child labor is pernicious to the child himself. Even Jesus would tell his disciples to suffer the little children and come to him, and not stifle their development. Those who claim to be advocates against child labor are unwittingly abetting the formation of the youth into a generation of child brats, spoiled and irresponsible, given to the quick and easy life, being spoonfed by doting parents, babied by uniformed yayas and driven by chauffeurs, treated as if they are juvenile emperors who are shielded from the harsh realities of life. They grow up like sissies or mamas boys who are weaklings and are easily driven to drugs, depression and suicide.

It is our considered view that, as long as these children are shielded from dirty, difficult, dangerous, deceptive and degrading jobs, they should be made to work under the strict guidance and supervision of their parents or guardians. As long as they do not neglect their studies and schooling, these children should be allowed to work within their capability.

The Chinese train their children in the stores and restaurant. They are assigned specific tasks and are not given money without working for it. Mr. Lucio Tan did it to his children. Mr. John Gokongwei did it, too, to his sons and daughters. Mr. Henry Sy did it to his children, too. And there is no sign at all to indicate that any of their kids have grown up quite abnormally.

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