The hundreds of thousands of deaths caused by the Covid pandemic have left between 350,000 and 500,000 Mexican children orphaned, with many having to find work. This is compounded by labour exploitation, femicide and other types of violence, which they face on a daily basis.
Luis Manuel Arce Isaac
The number of children in work rose as they started to contribute towards their family budget, with 2.1 million adults having lost their jobs by the end of 2021, when employment began to recover. These figures have been confirmed by the National Association of Small Merchants (ANPEC) and its President, Cuauhtémoc Rivera.
There are many warnings and accusations concerning child labour and the loss of children’s rights, particularly depriving them of the right to be children and subjecting them to work for survival, leading them to abandon play and their studies.
The Mexican Senate admitted in a report that 2 million children and adolescents joined the ranks of child workers due to their parents’ loss of employment or as a result of being orphaned, and that thousands of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises closed due to the pandemic-induced crisis.
Although children have traditionally worked in agriculture, construction and trade, where they suffer exploitation, receiving much lower pay than adults for almost identical work, the Senate and ANPEC agree that most of the increase in child labour has been in the informal sector.
Gabriela Ruiz Serrano, a researcher at the National School of Social Work, has said that when children take up paid employment, they renounce their fundamental rights. “We are facing a phenomenon that we can recognise as exploitative child labour”, she warns.
According to Ruiz Serrano, 7 per cent of the more than 31.8 million children and adolescents aged between 5 and 17 years in Mexico (i.e. 2.2 million children) work in risky and exploitative conditions. This data is corroborated by the National Institute of Statistics and Geography, in its latest report.
Save the Children Mexico cites official data showing that in 2021, 7 girls or adolescent women were killed and 37 suffered physical violence every day, not to mention the many cases that go unidentified and unreported.
In the first quarter of this year alone, when the impact of the pandemic was minimal, social security and welfare institutions have recorded 595 child murders and an 83.52 per cent increase in reports of family violence compared with 2015, with case numbers reaching an astonishing 233,978.
As for girls and adolescent women, the Secretariat of Security adds the issue of gender-based violence, as they are more vulnerable to sexual assault, financial insecurity, emotional abuse, and crimes such as sexual exploitation and trafficking. The most extreme form of gender-based violence is femicide, says Save the Children. In 2021 alone, an average of nine minors were killed each month.
Nancy Ramirez, Political Advocacy Director at Save the Children Mexico, explains that 60 per cent of children and adolescents do not have access to social security. Migrant children are also affected. In 2021, 75,000 irregular migrant children arrived in the country in insecure conditions.
These situations not only violate their rights but also prevent them from fully experiencing childhood.
The government has made large strides by providing monthly grants to these children to support low-income families. These grants are directly distributed so that they are received in full. It has also implemented social plans, such as paid apprenticeships. (PL)