Philippines activist gets U.S. award

Jan. 16, 2009 at 1:43 AM

WASHINGTON, Jan. 16 (UPI) -- The head of a group fighting child labor in the Philippines is the first winner of the Iqbal Masih Award, the U.S. Department of Labor announced Thursday.

The award honors Iqbal Masih, a Pakistani boy who escaped from slavery and became an advocate for the end of child exploitation. He was killed at age 13.

Maria Cecilia Flores-Oebanda of the Philippines, president and executive director of the Visayan Forum Foundation Inc., based in Quezon City, has spent her life fighting for the protection of women and children in her country and around the world, the department said. She is also Southeast Asia coordinator for the Global March Against Child Labor.

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

Flores-Oebanda was born into a poor family in the Philippines and helped her parents by scavenging as a child. In her teens, she became an advocate for young people.

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