Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

February 14, 2009

Child labor victims in Mexico: 'Green beans, child labor and NAFTA'

Green Beans, Child Labor and NAFTA
by Frontera NorteSur
(Photo News 6 San Diego click photo for more)

Two tragic accidents highlight the human toll of child labor in northern
Mexico’s agricultural export industry. Last Saturday, February 7, a
20-month-old child, Ismael de los Santos Barrea, was reported crushed to
death by truck tires at a farm in Sinaloa where his parents, teenage
migrant laborers from the state of Guerrero, were working to support the

Reportedly, no daycare was available for the boy.

A representative of the Tlachinollan Human Rights Center of the Mountain,
a non-governmental organization headquartered in Tlapa, Guerrero, said the
unfortunate child’s grandfather contacted the advocacy organization to
complain of the tragedy.

Margarita Nemecio Nemesio, Tlachinollan migrant coordinator, said legal
representatives for Agricola Reyes, the farm enterprise where de los
Santos Barrea child died, convinced the child’s parents to bury their son
in Sinaloa in order to avoid paying costs associated with transporting the
body to the family’s Guerrero homeland.

“The argument of the boss was that they would come up with an agreement
later since the boy wasn’t a worker for the company,” Nemecio said.

The death of Ismael de los Santos Barrea followed an accident last month
near Culiacan, Sinaloa, in which 10-year-old Angela Barraza Lopez lost
left her arm to a machine while cleaning green beans. Barraza was earning
about $5 per day without benefits when the accident occurred.

“I let her work with her friends, all of them her age, because they paid
well and it helped me with the household expenses,” said Barraza’s mother
Rosario. Similar to the de los Santos Barrea episode, Barraza’s mother
complained of initial difficulties in getting just compensation for death
or injuries.

Child labor is still common in the fields of Sinaloa and other northern
states where thousands of indigenous migrants and their children from the
states of Chiapas, Oaxaca, Guerrero, Veracruz, and Mexico make an annual
trek to perform stoop labor and other hard physical chores.

According to the Guerrero-based Council of Agricultural Laborers of the
Mountain, 8,177 migrants from the indigenous region of the state from
which the de los Santos family hails traveled to northern Mexico to work
during the 2008-09 winter harvest. The group additionally reported that
519 infants aged one year or less were brought along on the migration.

Nationwide, Mexico’s National Institute of Statistics, Geography and
Informatics reported that 3.6 million of 29.2 million Mexican children
aged 5-17 were engaged in some kind of economic activity in 2007. In
Guerrero, 20 percent of the age group studied by the federal census agency
was categorized as being in the labor force.

In the north, the states of Sinaloa, Sonora, Chihuahua and Baja California
function as a vast, transnational farming belt that provides food and
fiber for the urbanized societies of the United States and Mexico.
Cucumber, tomato, green beans and chile peppers are popularly-cultivated
crops, among others. According to the Confederation of Agricultural
Associations of Sinaloa, state vegetable exports to the United States
raked in $572 million in 2007. From Sinaloa, 316,828 tons of tomatoes were
sent to the US during the same year.

Guerrero’s Tchallinolan Human Rights Center has documented five other
cases of children killed or injured in the fields of Sinaloa, Sonora and
Chihuahua in recent years. However, spokeswoman Margarita Nemecio said
more cases might not be officially registered.

“We believe the number could be higher,” Nemecio said, “because many times
the owners harass the parents of minors to not get the authorities

Mexico, meanwhile, is also a magnet for children laborers from other
nations. Since the beginning of the year, federal authorities have
discovered three groups of Guatemalan minors contracted to work as street
vendors or domestic workers in the southern state of Chiapas. On February
12, police assigned to the federal unit that investigates crimes of
violence against women and human trafficking picked up 11 Guatemalan
children aged 7 to 17 who were selling candy and balloons on the streets
of Tapachula, Chiapas. Allegedly, the children were being paid with water,
cookies and a tarp to sleep with on the ground.

Sources: El Sur, February 11, 2009. Article by Zacarias Cervantes. La
Jornada, January 29 and February 14, 2009. Articles by Javier Valdez
Cardenas, G. Castillo and A. Mariscal.

Frontera NorteSur (FNS): on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news
Center for Latin American and Border Studies
New Mexico State University Las Cruces, New Mexico

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