A Catholic bishop in the Philippines is drawing attention to the ongoing problem of child labor in the country, urging a cooperative effort to eliminate the factors driving children into often dangerous working conditions.

“The situation of the suffering children and those who are deprived of their rights and dignity leave a great challenge to us as a church and as a society,” said Bishop Roberto Mallari of San Jose, according to the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines’ news website.

The government has introduced a plan to combat child labor and says it hopes to reduce the numbers of working children in the country by 30% by 2022.

However, Mallari stressed that the factors contributing to child labor are complex, and will take a combined effort from the government, church, and society to solve.

“The root of this sad reality is poverty and lack of livelihood options which leads the child to contribute to the family income,” he said.

It is estimated that there are more than 2 million child laborers in the Philippines. The International Labor Organization said a 2011 study from the country found that about 95% of child laborers were engaged in hazardous work.

The U.S. government reported that “the Philippines made a moderate advancement in efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labor” in 2018. It noted that the nation’s government had begun a process of profiling child laborers and introduced guidelines to remove them from child labor and connect them with the services they need.

However, the U.S. Department of Labor warned, children in the Philippines are still forced into sexual exploitation and drug trafficking, as well as dangerous work in gold mining and agriculture.

“In addition, the enforcement of child labor laws remains challenging, especially due to the limited number of inspectors, lack of resources for inspections, and inspectors’ inability to assess penalties,” the Department of Labor found.

Bishop Mallari emphasized the right of children to live in a safe environment with their basic necessities met. When families and societies cannot provide these fundamentals, children in poor families are forced into dangerous situations that violate their basic rights, he said.

The bishop called for a cooperative effort in solving the problems that lead to child labor within the country.

“God entrusted to us His beloved children,” he said. “Ours is a task of taking care of them and be with them in their values formation.”