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
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
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.
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