01 February 2009

A Filipina's Fight Against Child Labor

Photo courtesy of JRandomF
Maria Cecilia Flores-Oebanda has been awarded the first Iqbal Masih award for her work towards the elimination of exploitative child labor, according to the United States Department of Labor.

Deputy Undersecretary for International Affairs Charlotte M. Ponticelli said the US agency was giving this award to acknowledge Flores-Oebanda’s lifetime battle against the use of child domestic workers and the trafficking of women and children for domestic servitude and commercial sexual exploitation in the Philippines and internationally.

Flores-Oebanda is currently the president and executive director of the Visayan Forum Foundation Inc. (VFF) in Quezon City.

"This award recognizes a true champion in the fight to end exploitive child labor," said Ponticelli in a statement. "Through her work, Ms. Flores-Oebanda has brought real change to the lives of thousands of children."

The Iqbal Masih Award was established by the US Congress to recognize the work of an individual, company, organization or national government to end the worst forms of child labor.

The award reflects the spirit of Iqbal Masih, a Pakistani child enslaved at the age of four who escaped his servitude and became an outspoken advocate against child slavery, the statement said.

In 1995 at the age of 13 and a year after receiving the Reebok Human Rights Award, Iqbal was killed in Pakistan. His dedication to ending child slavery, however, continues to inspire individuals around the world.

Like Iqbal Masih, Flores-Oebanda was born into poverty. As a child, she helped to support her family by scavenging. Later as a teenager, she advocated for the rights of youth and farm laborers, the statement said.

Flores-Oebanda later founded and now leads the VFF, a non-governmental organization that has rescued and provided assistance to more than 32,000 victims and potential victims of trafficking.

The US agency said the VFF has helped to file more than 65 trafficking cases on behalf of more than 165 victims.

Flores-Oebanda serves as the Southeast Asia coordinator for the Global March Against Child Labor and is active with other significant events to support work against child and exploitive labor, it said.

Since 1995, the US Department of Labor (www.dol.gov/ilab) has supported efforts to combat exploitive child labor internationally. The agency has succeeded in rescuing more than 1.25 million children from exploitive child labor.