World Day Against Child Labor: Mexican Foreign Ministry releases report detailing Mexican children traveling to US alone are looking for work, Latina Lista, 12 de Junio 2009.
Today, the global community observes World Day Against Child Labour.
Begun in 2002 by the International Labor Organization, this year's theme is "Give Girls a Chance -- End Child Labor."
According to ILO estimates, of the 218 million child laborers worldwide, 100 million are girls. More than half of those girls are exposed to hazardous work in a variety of sectors, including agriculture, manufacturing, mining, domestic services and commercial sexual exploitation. In many cases, work performed by girls is hidden from the public eye, leaving the girls vulnerable to physical danger and abuse.
Girls are often forced to carry a double burden by contributing significantly to their own households' chores, including child care, as well as undertaking other employment outside of their homes.
At the same time, gender inequalities persist in primary education. Of the 75 million out-of-school children in 2006, 55 percent were girls, and for every 100 boys in school, there are only 94 girls.
Yesterday, Secretary of Labor, Hilda Solis, announced that the Department of Labor will provide more than $60 million for programs to address exploitive child labor globally. The administration might not have to go too far from home.
Being the United States, the prevalent thought is that the exploitation of child labor only exists in third-world countries or those countries ingrained with a rigid class system.
However, a recent report by the Mexican Foreign Ministry reveals that the United States has a very real problem with child labor.
A fact that may be known but conveniently ignored because it concerns undocumented child immigrants.
Recently, the Mexican Foreign Ministry compiled a report entitled 2008 Report of the Repatriation of Unaccompanied Minors. (The report is in Spanish)
The report found that over 17,000 children from 0-17 was captured along the US-Mexico border by US authorities. The overwhelming reason that these children gave for coming to the United States was to work.
Some of the other major findings:
  • 83 percent of the youth captured were boys, while 17 percent were girls.
  • The main destination state for the children was California followed by Texas, Arizona, New York, Illinois and Florida.
  • The majority of children were found to be between 12 and 17-years old.
  • The majority of the children reported completing secondary education.
  • Michoacan was the Mexican state where most of the children originated from.
  • While April was the month when the biggest number of boys was captured, August was the month when most girls were captured.
  • Of the children captured, 26 percent were indigenous mixteco.

This study by the Mexican government illustrates that there does exist a need by these children to work to help their families. Seeing that these are the ones who were caught, it stands to reason that many more escaped capture.

The more troubling thought is where are these other children and what are they doing?
One answer is certain -- they are in the United States.
Are they at the mercy of human traffickers and being prostituted out to satisfy the demented needs of a sick demographic? Probably.
Are they being forced to work in slave-like conditions with no or very little pay and no freedom? Most likely?
Have they sacrificed their childhoods to help their families? Yes.
Are they lost forever between two countries? Hopefully, not.
Though most of these children do disappear into the underworld of this nation, they do come up for air sometimes. It's up to all of us to be cognizant and question why a young person would be working in a particular situation or under certain conditions or be with a questionable group of people.
The saying "It takes a village to raise a child" is trite and cliche now but what's not said often enough is that "It takes the global community to look out and protect its children."