March 17, 2000

First Census of Street Working Children for Mexico


In a bustling plaza in the city's centre, Alejandro Huitzilui Quintana, 12 and Adrian Ixcoatl, 10, dance under a hot sun in colourful costumes, hoping six hours worth of effort will earn them the equivalent of US $5.

Each day of their young lives, the children make a two-hour trip from a poverty belt surrounding the megalopolis of Mexico City in an effort to scratch out a living for themselves and their families. Their parents earn an average of US$ 200 a month sewing dance costumes.

Alejandro and Adrian are two of 14,322 children who work illegally on the streets of this city of 20 million people, according to the first survey Mexico City has conducted on the trend. Mexican law prohibits children younger than 14 from working. According to Isabel Molina, director of the federal System for the Whole Development of the Family, officials completed the study, supported by UNICEF, in order to draft policies to resolve the problem.

"It is a very large social problem," Molina said. "There were a lot of myths circulating about children in the streets. We discovered that only about 1,000 work and live in the streets; the rest return to their homes."

The survey found that 17 percent of the children suffer work-related accidents.

Alejandro says he dances to pay for school and clothing. "I also give the money to my mother," he said.

Despite laws prohibiting child labour, the streets are filled with children washing windshields, selling candy, shining shoes, and performing with painted clown faces or colourful costumes in traffic intersections.

Most of the children are males between the ages of 12 and 17, according to the study, but children who appear no older than 5 or 6 also are also seen late at night peddling trinkets to cafe diners and hotel guests.

According to the study, children working on the streets earn about US $8 a day, about twice the minimum daily wage.

"This is a problem, because they earn a lot," Molina said.

The average for children working on the streets is 7.2 years, according to the study. Those in the direst of straits are the children who both work and live in the streets, sleeping in parks, eating badly and occasionally using drugs.

"Broken families are an important cause," the study said.

Child Labour News Service (CLNS), is managed by the Global March Against Child Labour

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