MEXICO CITY – About 2.5 million Mexican children have no other option but to work to help support their families.
“They’re not in school, it affects their health and they’re losing playtime and recreation time. So, it’s important for the state to have policies that discourage child labor,” the executive director for the Network for the Rights of Children in Mexico (Redim), Juan Martin Perez, told EFE on Monday.
Figures from the INEGO statistics agency show that 2.48 million Mexicans between the ages of 5-17 work.
Redim says that this is directly related to poverty, which – according to official numbers – affected 43.6 percent of Mexico’s 127.5 million people in 2016, while 9.4 million people were living in extreme poverty.
Eight of every 10 child workers live in indigenous communities, where poverty is pervasive.
“The basic problem is the working conditions,” Perez added.
Many minors work for the family in small workshops, agricultural labor or services. Normally, they do so without earning anything, although they are under the tutelage of their parents.
But “when boys and girls work for others, we begin to have problems, because work schedules are not respected and they’re exposed to activities that could be risky,” Perez said.
INEGI found that more than 900,000 school-age youngsters don’t attend school because of work, 2.2 million underage workers are in unpermitted occupations and, of that total, 1.3 million are doing work seen as dangerous.
In Mexico, the legal working age is 15, but up until age 18 kids must attend school and have a limited work schedule, if they work at all.
For Redim’s Perez, the state – in large part – is to blame for not eliminating child labor, and the state is unable to increase the median income for families or to attend to the most urgent cases despite having signed international agreements in this area.
On the other hand, Perez said, the poorest “are victimized and violations of (their) rights are spreading” because when minors who work are identified, often the parents are blamed and sometimes the government even separates these children from their families.