A high incidence of working children due to poverty and lack of access to education plagued the city. The closure of wood-based industries in the area displaced the working children who later became helpers, gatherers of kangkong in riverbanks, peddlers, pedicab drivers, while others were raped, abused and exploited. A program was launched to save the working children. It aimed to abolish exploitative child labor; reduce child labor incidence by sending working children back to school; and provide parents of working children with livelihood opportunities to free their children from working. It also provided protection to abused or exploited children.
An extensive masterlist was prepared to identify the working children and plan the needed interventions. Advocacy activities were also done to educate the parents. Committees at the barangay levels were formed to handle child labor cases and problems. Executive Order No. 95-07 was passed integrating the program in the barangay development plans. A committee headed by the city mayor in partnership with 14 government agencies and NGOs coordinated the implementation of the program. The program is funded by the city government and its member agencies. UNICEF funded the advocacy activities.
Around 85 percent of the identified working children had availed of the interventions extended by the program in terms of authorized school fees exemption, health services and livelihood assistance. Only 15 of the city's 86 barangays had not been reached by the program. Around 550 working children went back to school through the Balik-Aral (Back to School) and others were provided with free miscellaneous fees, uniform, bags, and school supplies. The program apprehended 52 minor pedicab drivers and penalized their employees; rescued four (4) minors from prostitution in 1997; acted on three (3) illegal recruitment cases; referred illegally recruited minors to concerned government agencies for necessary assistance; and distributed medicines to two baranagays benefiting 145 working children. Several ordinances and resolutions were passed to ensure sustainability of the program.
This program is recognized as one of the Ten Outstanding Programs in the 1997 Galing Pook Awards.