An Empirical Analysis on the Trade-off between Schooling and Child Labor in the Philippines

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In 1996, an award-winning documentary about child labor in the Philippines was shown on national television. The documentary, entitled Minsan lang sila bata, featured movingly how a semblance of childhood could be lost because of child labor.1 It aimed to present the sad plight of child laborers, grim realities of child labor, and to stir up the sensibilities of the viewing public, who, perhaps, were largely unmindful of this distressing reality. Economic theory emphasizes the important role of human capital, among others, in furthering and sustaining economic growth or economic development. It is not without basis to say that Philippine economic development will be anchored, in part, on the quality of the economy’s current and future human infrastructures. The operational word is quality, which presupposes and necessitates an educated, well-trained or highly skilled human resource. The absence of this quality will definitely have a detrimental impact on future productivity. In light of these positions, therefore, this question then begs to be asked: Does the prevalence of child work or child labor encumber on the country’s economic growth and development? This paper looks into the reality that is child labor and tries to understand its existence in light of education realities and schooling issues in the Philippines. It attempts to answer the aforesaid question through the investigation on the seeming tradeoff between child labor and schooling, and through the exploration of the impacts of this tradeoff in both the short term and long term. The exploration and discussion of other determinants of child labor is beyond the purview of this paper. The first section discusses current statistics about the incidence of child labor considering the 1995 and 2001 surveys of children. The second section sets the parameters regarding the operational definition of child labor in the Philippines. The third section reviews the literature on child work, focusing on factors that lead households to choose child work vis-à-vis schooling. The fourth section discusses the theoretical framework, which is essentially a household model on the determinants and causes of child labor. The fifth section presents methodological framework and the two-stage model employed in the empirical investigation. The sixth section discusses the institutional setting considering schooling issues and the data employed in the empirical inquiry. The seventh section presents the results of the econometric analyses, and the last section, the summary and recommendations.