"Minsan Lang Sila Bata" (They Can Only be Children Once)

A Glimpse at the Face of Child Labor in the Philippines,1996

Child Labor as a Social Problem

The film documented different faces of child labor in different phases of Philippines. It has three segments exposing how children despite their ‘right to be children’ were forced to work and earn a living for their family. The segments were: (1) Child labor at Slaughterhouse, (2) Children as “Maghohornal” and lastly (3) Children unloading cement at the Port.

Child labor is indeed a social problem in our society. There are many reasons as to why it was considered such. First is, it is illegal. Our Constitution intensely prohibits this act that it only mandates children to receive proper education and the right to live as children. Legally speaking, it is a social problem because our society rejects child labor yet its condition persists.

Secondary, on a sociological viewpoint, child labor is a social problem due to the fact that it applies to a large number of people. As expressed on the former statements, the documentary highlights this condition by showing its viewers that it occurs on different places of this country — be it on the rural or on the urban — although it took various forms; it does exist.

Lastly, child labor elicits norm violation in our society i.e. deviating in our normative standards. Children should play; children should not be exposed to the harshness and injustices of the world; children should be supported and not the ones supporting; children should be protected and children should enjoy life as how normal children do. Normally, those are what our senses absorb and undoubtedly, that is what our society inculcated us to believe. We accept child labor per se as abnormal because it does not portray exactly the way how our society envisioned it to be. It doesn’t paint the image that our society imagined her children to be.

Child labor — An analysis of the Social Problem using the Three Levels Approaches

In the movie, the people who are greatly affected in it are the child laborers. It is important to note that the result or the problem i.e. their being child laborers, is not caused by a homogenous circumstance. At some point, interlocking causes and problems lead them to become such. The succeeding paragraphs would discuss child labor as a social problem on: (a) personal level, (b) group level and lastly (c) societal level.

Looking at this on the personal level, problem would be viewed on a personal milieu. On each segments, children has different personal stories to share relating to the problem. These personal problems they had contributed to their status, generally, as child laborers.

The first segment, at the slaughter house, Tikboy, 9 year-old, shared that he had to work to help his family. He knew that the nature of work from 7: 00 pm to 10: 00 pm was dangerous; however, he had no other option for that was the only possible way wherein he could earn money. He was even wounded. The salary was also not judicial for his efforts.

On the second, Belena, labeled as “batang hornal” was interviewed. She honestly said that she wanted to go to school but she could not because her family had too many debts to fund for her education. Although she would be enrolled and promised that she would continue schooling, she would later be asked not to go to school so that she could work and earn money. On the other hand, Cito, 14 year-old, same as Belena, seemed to acquire learnt-helplessness that he did not long to study anymore. He just accepted that he couldn’t catch up with the lessons and that he would rather go to field; hold his “matsete” and work to help his family.

The Child laborers at the port of Dapitan were also willing to tell their stories. One confided that it was because his father only battered his mother and that they didn’t have any money. The other mentioned that his father was only a fisherman and that his earnings were not enough to suffice the family’s need.

On the Group Level, the milieu is not just the person who experiences this but rather, the other persons who are also involved and affected, suggesting a system, not a person.

At the slaughter house, children primarily worry that they might get wounded. Sharp knives could get into their flesh and cut them just like the pigs that were slaughtered. The pigs from the boiling water were also too hot and could hurt their skin. Their only salary was the slice of pork that their boss would allow them to have. They still need to sell it to market secretly to trade it for money.

Meanwhile, the “Maghohornal” children were all occupied with the question, “how could they pay their debt?” After removing the weeds and planting the crops, the families of “maghohornal” had to wait for months to have another job. These then would make them idle. They had no income which would cause them to generate debts. Thus, by the time they would have jobs, they already had lots of credits to pay.

The Child laborers at Dapitan were also lamenting over the fact that their work was really hard, health threatening and heavy since they had to carry sacks of cement for hours. The treatment of their boss was not cruel yet harsh, since they were only allowed to have a break at 1:00 after the adults had finished having their lunch.

Yet on the societal level, the focus are on the problems experienced by every individuals (the child laborers), the group that they belong to and the society these individuals and groups constitute. On all the segments the child laborers were all striving over the economic deprivation that they were encountering. They were willy-nilly but to work hard for a small earning. Despite the danger, their dreams and aspirations, they had to stomach in their inevitable fate and that is, to be a Child Laborer.

As can be analyzed, not all personal problems are part of group problems. Not all group problems are part of societal problems. Yet, the personal problems and the group problem contribute to the growth of social problem.

On the contrary, the problems, as viewed on three distinct levels could also be given solution vis-à-vis the level that it is viewed. Provided below are some assumptions on how these solutions address the problems they were facing.

On a personal level, suppose that a philanthropist adapted Belena and funded her education and paid all the debts of her family. Her personal problem could be resolved but not the group and not the society’s problem as well. However, we could not also rely on philanthropist to cater these unfortunate children thus, it would not work to the group level.

On the group level, if the bosses of these child laborers would make their salary higher and the treatment more considerately, the group could be alleviated. It would then require them to change the rules and policies that they were applying in the work place. These changes however, are not applicable to the other. Say, the changes made at Dapitan could not be applicable to the slaughter house.

Lastly, the societal level solution could make an impact to the group and personal levels. If the government, a structural institution of society, would legalize child labor in our country and would give different provisions for these children, bills and laws would be passed protecting the rights of these children as laborers.

Children who are in this status could enjoy, if not, at least have the privilege of being a laborer. They would have the grounds for requesting wage increase and to charge their bosses of felony if they were harassed or abused.

Indeed, if the society could not eradicate child labor, at least, the society could make changes to lessen the burden of being one (a child laborer).

Minsan Lang Sila Bata(They can only be Children Once) — A Personal Reflection

Honestly, if I were to be a Child laborer, I don’t know if I could I swallow it… perhaps for a day, but not for long.

Based on what I saw in the film that was released on 1996 (when I was still in grade 1), I became more aware on how rampant child labor was in our country. Aware in the sense that I just didn’t know it but felt it as well.

It was not easy being child laborer. (My tears almost slipped out my eyes, glad I was able to hold it) The work was hard and the environment was not friendly for their young breaths. The money was too small even for their small hands to hold. The blood, the sun and the dust are all penetrating not just in their skin but also in their hearts.

I can never blame them. Why didn’t they refuse and insist that they should be holding toys and pencils instead? They were caught in a situation that they could not escape. Of course, before they think of theirselves, they have to think for the welfare of their family. They love their parents.

I can never blame their parents. (The children didn’t blame them too.) They love their daughters, they love their sons — those are given. However, why didn’t they sacrificed or at least became wise before planning to raise sons and daughters? But they are already there… breathing. Love per se can not put rice on their plates.

According to Maslow, love and belongingness as well as intellectualization needs belong to a higher rank than primary needs. With this in mind, the actions of these children and their parents were reasonable. Before they thought of their need to love and be loved, before they thought of their need to be knowledgeable and intellectualized, their primary needs such as food, shelter and clothing should be foremost attended.

But, is there anyone where we can put the blame?

The society can not also give an accurate answer. It can only cope and adapt the changes that the reality threw to our senses. It can create solutions — solutions that inevitably causes birth of new problems.

Take for an example, to the families of Tikboy, Belena and others interviewed, child labor is not a problem, it is more of a solution since it adds to their income. But on other perspective, it is a problem which caused more problems. Why? Those children were not receiving proper education; they were unconsciously subjected to the selfish motive of some adults who only wanted to benefit and not to help.

And then we would say, “child labor is a social problem”, yet it is rooted on a problem that exists long before these children and perhaps the parents of these children were born— poverty. Poverty takes on many forms yet it elicits different result and one is what the object of discussion is all about, not to mention prostitution and other coping strategies used by people to generate income.

What I am trying to say is that dealing or healing a social problem is like playing pick-up sticks. Same as how a kid uses his eyes to see all possible angles to remove a stick from the overlapping sticks scattered on the floor, the society should be keen enough to look for the possible angles to attack the problem. If the kid became careless, other sticks would be moved which signifies game over. It is not different if the social problem would carelessly be attacked, it would affect the values and beliefs of others thus, producing more chaos rather than prosperity.

This then made me remember what the Bible elucidates in Jeremiah 6:13-15 “For from the least one of them even to the greatest one of them, every one is making for himself unjust gain; and from the prophet even to the priest, each one is acting falsely. 14 And they try to heal the breakdown of my people lightly, saying, ‘There is peace! There is peace!’ when there is no peace. 15 Did they feel shame because it was something detestable that they had done? For one thing, they positively do not feel any shame; for another thing, they have not come to know even how to feel humiliated. Therefore they will fall among those who are falling; in the time that I must hold an accounting with them they will stumble,” Jehovah has said.”

For long, men strived to prove that they can heal its people, yet they prove none. This is not to be considered as degradation of humanity but rather, accepting what humanity is all about. We are all imperfect, thus we could not provide solution and analyze things just as how perfects, like God, could do it.

In response, we should always reflect on things we see and experience while remembering Proverbs 3: 5, 6, . That I think is the only way we can trudge on this system positively. In His own time, God would act and prove his sovereignty once more that He alone, could provide the answer, resolving all the issues that His creations were having.

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Comments 20 comments

Ica 7 years ago

This article is really helpful. Thank you for posting it here. :)


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Yla Pamfilo 7 years ago from Philippines Author

Ica thanks for leaving a comment here... Glad that my efforts are appreciated!


Ramsky 6 years ago

Thank you for this article. Your insights on child labor helped me in my reporting.


ann 6 years ago

hmm, i like how this article was made... it's very organized and it really helped me a lot in my research... anyway, for anyone reading this article, please help us advocate the anti-child labor campaign in the Philippines... Children deserves to be children.. They're not supposed to be working and paying the debts of their parents... They're not supposed to be working for their family... They are supposed to be freely playing with their peers... They are supposed to be going to the school and be educated...


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Yla Pamfilo 6 years ago from Philippines Author

wow... i am so delighted to see both comments of ramsky and ann... thank you too. The writer inspires readers and so does the readers to the writers.

you really are affirming. God Bless us and all the children. He will do what he has promised. (Psalms 37: 9-11, 29)


marisa mercado 6 years ago

it was an article had shown how poverty killed the childhood of our Filipino children. imagined how justice disowned them!!! I was hoping our government would see what's happening on the country they are able to serve kindheartedly!


princes bernadeth  6 years ago

the article inspires me a lot.. it open my mind and my heart to help children who are abused.. its not right for a child to work and be treat too much..im sorry for those children who are under child labor..even they are working or the sake of their family, its not fair for them to treat bad..they don't get any money after a whole day of work..why ??? i cannot understand those people who hired children but don't have any concern for them..


russel ramiro 5 years ago

This will really help the people to know what really child labor means. Thanks for posting.


princess 5 years ago

thanks for posting this. it helped me a lot. :)


nikki 5 years ago

hi, thank you for posting it here. you are amazing. i can feel your passion in writing something good. this maybe too late, but i'm glad i got the chance to read it and i find it very helpful in many ways :) KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK. May GOD be with you always. :)


Dr. Velo Diandres, Phd. 5 years ago

Very insightful, I'd agree but only to a few mentions. But still well done analysis.


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Yla Pamfilo 5 years ago from Philippines Author

Thank you for your comments. These will help me a lot for my future hubs :)


nezel faith sabandal 5 years ago

this 3 movies touch me a lot,,and gves me emphaze for everything


delfin 4 years ago

where can I get a copy of this documentary?


bremer 4 years ago

hi, this article was very nice.....do you have a copy of the video documentary???


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Yla Pamfilo 3 years ago from Philippines Author

not sure... but the Philippine Normal University Manila- Social Sciences Department has a copy of it. It's where I watched it.


Bhaswati 20 months ago

Daddy and I: An Evening At the Lake demonstrates the imrtnoapce of spending quality time with your child. As a parent, I appreciate the use of familiar, recognizable locations for the setting. And, I love that my 7 year old daughter was able to read the text independently. As an early childhood educator, I would definitely recommend Daddy and I: An evening At the Lake to anyone who is interested in being a positive role model to a child.


Egypt 20 months ago

Thakns for taking the time to post. It's lifted the level of debate


dakmat 14 months ago

guys eyes here! hmm can i ask? what is the summary of the "minsan lang sila bata"? i need you guys for the sake of my grade! huhu please?


markelnar 8 months ago

Good day,

Does anybody know what happened to those kids today?

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