According to the ILO, 3.3 million children and adolescents aged 5 to 17 in Central America and Mexico were in child labor in 2020; 63% of whom are under the age of 15 and the proportion of boys and adolescents (2,354,000) is higher than that of girls and adolescents (979,000).
The trickiest aspect of these numbers is that 2.2 million children and young people were doing hazardous work. What is hazardous child labor? Work which – by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out – is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children (work in which the child is exposed to physical violence, psychological or sexual; work underground, under water, at height or in enclosed spaces; work with dangerous machines and tools; work in an unsanitary environment; work long hours or at night).
According to DIGESTYC, in 2021, 81,164 children and adolescents between the ages of 5 and 17 worked in El Salvador; of which 61% resided in rural areas, 74% were men and more than 71% performed hazardous work for children.
ECLAC draws attention to the impact of the pandemic on child labor, highlighting the factors that were already affecting these populations before covid-19 (poverty, malnutrition and school dropout). From the aforementioned health and economic crisis, the problems have worsened; for example, distance education during the pandemic has deepened existing inequalities (especially in rural areas and households without internet access). The fact is that those who stopped attending classes between 2020 and 2021 are more likely to drop out of school and fall behind in education. Similarly, households now affected by the high cost of living run a greater risk of seeing their minor children forced to work to contribute to the family economy.
The population of migrant children has increased, especially children from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, who are heading to the United States. Many of them migrate without the company of their parents or a responsible adult capable of providing assistance and protection. There are no exact data on this phenomenon, but the ILO warns of the risk of this migrant population being exposed to hazardous child labour.
Reflection 1: Central America and Mexico have more serious child labor indicators than the Latin American average, therefore programs for the prevention and eradication of child labor should be strengthened, as well as the integration of this issue in employment policies.
Reflection 2: The fight against the phenomenon of child labor and mass migration requires joint and coordinated action by the United States, Mexico and Central America, emphasizing the creation and strengthening of networks institutional and commercial measures against child labor and the expansion of educational and employment opportunities. in the places of origin of the migrant population.
Conclusion: many of the causes of child labor and mass migration are the same (job insecurity, inefficient education system and lack of opportunities), which tend to be compounded by the effect of inflation and climate change. It would therefore be appropriate to create a platform for joint action between public institutions, civil society organizations and external cooperators related to the protection of children, the fight against poverty, the rights of migrants and the generation of decent jobs. at the local national level. .