Press Release: Decent work for adults helps to eliminate child labor in agricultural fields

  • Specific social programs must be strengthened to meet the needs of agricultural day laborers and protection spaces for migrant children and adolescents.
  • In Mexico, there are 3.2 million children and adolescents from 5 to 17 years old who work; 30% do it in agricultural activities.
  • Improving working conditions in the agricultural sector is essential to eliminate child labor.
  • High risk of increased child labor in the agricultural sector in the context of Contingency COVID-19.

In Mexico, according to INEGI, the population of 15 years and more engaged in agricultural activities, is 5.5 million people as of December 2015. Of which 56% are farmers and 44% agricultural support workers (laborers or day laborers). On average, workers can earn 18.5 pesos an hour. The entities of Chiapas, Guerrero, Michoacán de Ocampo, Oaxaca, Puebla and Veracruz, concentrate 58.7% of these employed in the country.

According to World Vision, agricultural laborers work in precarious working conditions and with little or no management practices for their health and safety, constantly exposing themselves to situations that violate their integrity and rights. In a survey carried out by World Vision to 508 sugar cane cutters, it was found that 61% of the workers were hired “by word”, presenting different forms of payment to the piece rate and 16% do not know how their payment calculated. Most do not use personal protective equipment, finding that at least 18% of cutters suffered accidents due to cuts and minor injuries caused by the use of machetes. Workers are unaware of Social Security benefits despite the fact that 72% said they were registered.

These working conditions and the occupational risks to which they are exposed cause dehydration, heat stroke, cuts, mutilations, musculoskeletal disorders, intoxication, poisoning, among others. The consequences to the health of workers can lead to the inability to carry out their work and even death. Consequently, if the provider of the household becomes ill, the responsibility to contribute to household expenses falls on the rest of the family, including children and adolescents.

Due to these risks and repercussions, the Federal Labor Law defines agricultural activities as hazardous work, and therefore prohibited, for people under 18 years of age. However, Mexico is the second country with the most cases of child labor in Latin America. In Mexico, there are 3.2 million children between the ages of 5 and 17 who work, 62.7% men and 37.3% women. (INEGI, 2017).

To address these issues, World Vision implements the Campos de Esperanza program, with the purpose of preventing child labor and promoting the improvement of working conditions in the sugar cane and coffee sectors in the states of Veracruz and Oaxaca. Through this program, it has been possible to train nearly 3,700 producers and cutters on issues of labor rights, prevention of child labor, and safety and health at work, the latter includes hydration, shade and rest, quality in cane cutting, good use and management of agrochemicals, and first aid. These trainings are carried out in coordination with sugarcane organizations (UNPCA, UNC, FIPCA, UCD and URAC), the Chamber of Sugar and Alcohol Industries (CNIAA) and four sugar mills in the states of Oaxaca and Veracruz.

"We seek the implementation of innovative mechanisms in conjunction with the sugarcane and coffee sector to advance compliance with labor rights, which includes training for workers, producers and technical personnel," said Magnolia Rodríguez, National Coordinator of Occupational Safety and Health from World Vision México. “The trainings help provide information to carry out a harvest and proper management of sugar cane and coffee, reducing the incidence of accidents, improving productivity, protecting workers, reducing child labor and, above all, contributing to the sustainability of these sectors”.

In the framework of the Occupational Safety and Health Day, Oscar Castillo, Director of the Campos de Esperanza Program, calls for addressing these issues: “We must continue to strengthen specific social programs to meet the needs of migrant farm workers, access to education and protections spaces for the care of children and adolescents who migrate with their parents, and improve working conditions in agricultural fields, including signing contracts, paying decent wages, improving shelters and providing personal protective equipment, among others. In addition to strengthening the surveillance mechanisms that ensure compliance with labor rights.”

Furthermore, in the context of the COVID-19 contingency, Oscar Castillo emphasizes that there may be an increase in child labor due to the labor uncertainty that the pandemic has caused. “We are concerned that the economic slowdown will reduce employment opportunities and increase the flexibility and precariousness of work, that is, a worsening of working conditions. Situation that would lead to a decrease in household income and to the need for girls and boys to work to help obtain a livelihood for their families, both in urban and rural areas. In addition, to the need to reinforce protection measures so that agricultural day laborers who continue working do not become infected by the coronavirus. For this reason, it is urgent in the framework of the modifications to the Federal Expenditure Budget 2020 triggered by the health emergency, to include proposals to ensure jobs and working conditions, with an emphasis on agricultural fields”.

"It requires the articulation of the public, private and civil society sectors to promote these proposals. Therefore, at World Vision we continue to work together with our partners at the national, state and municipal levels to prevent child labor and improve working conditions. Contributing to the construction of a prosperous and safe Mexico for our children and adolescents”, he affirms.