By MARK LORENZANA
Sunday, June 12, marked World Day against Child Labor under the theme “Universal Social Protection to End Child Labor,” but according to the Network for the Rights of Children in Mexico (Redim), there are about 3.2 million children in the country under the age of 18 who must work to survive.
Rubisel, a 13-year-old from the southernmost Mexican state of Chiapas, identifies himself as a working child. According to him, he finishes his work late at night, and has to walk back to his house because he can no longer find public transportation and can’t afford a taxi.
“Many pay us poorly. They don’t value what we do, so they pay us very little. We are also abused by criminals. We have to be careful on the streets, to make sure that no one sees us,” said Rubisel.
Stocking merchandise, working the fields, selling various items on the street, cleaning windows at traffic lights, polishing shoes or cleaning houses are the most common jobs that children and adolescents take up around the country.
The report “Childhood Counts in Mexico, from and for Children and Adolescents: Child Labor, 2021,” included testimonies of minors who, like Rubisel, must brave the streets to earn money and help put food on the table for their families.
According to the jointly prepared report by Melel Xojobal and the Loyola Indigenous Development Center, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that focus on the indigenous communities, at least two out of 10 children in the country do not have access to food.
Those minors who work, as the report warns, are at greater risk of being exposed to an environment of violence and crime. In addition, their physical and emotional health are also compromised.
Still according to the report, Guanajuato, the State of Mexico (Edoméx) and Chihuahua are the states with the highest mortality rate in the 5-to-17 age group.
The collective stories of the children in the report, who are forced to work, point to one reason why they need to go out to earn money: Their families live in poverty.
Abraham — who is 16 years old and originally from Guanajuato — stated, however, that he has decided to work out of his own volition, although he admits that it is complicated. “I work in a car wash and carry heavy things. I like it because I can support my mom and buy things for myself,” he said.
Noemi, from Oaxaca, age 15, says she needs to work but doesn’t like it. Valeria, another minor, whose job is peeling potatoes, says that she dreams of becoming a doctor some day.
Bryan needs to sell flowers to buy clothes, and Juanita makes piggy banks so her parents can buy food. She — like Valeria — also longs to become a doctor.