Photo credit: Caroline Trutmann Marconi / Save the Children, Nov 2018

Mexico’s Progress in Ending Child Labor Is a Father’s Story of Progress As Well

The latest child labor estimates tell a story of real progress and of a job unfinished, as outlined in Save the Children’s Global Childhood Report: Changing Lives in our Lifetime. Child labor rates and the global number of child laborers have declined dramatically in recent years. Globally, rates are down 40%, and 94 million fewer children are working now than in 2000. But progress has slowed and the world remains far from the 2025 target to end child labor in all its forms. 1

Much of the decline in child labor in recent years has been credited to active policy efforts to extend and improve schooling, extend social protection, expand basic services and establish legal frameworks against child labor.2

Mexico has made impressive progress against child labor, cutting its rate by 80%. This progress deeply personal for many families with young children who hope for a better future for their sons and daughters, free from child labor. 

Amador is one such parent.

The father of five school-age boys himself, Amador dropped out of school to work and make money when he was about 10. “My dad was disabled and I was the last child,” he said. “I did not have an education. I still don’t read very well.”

Amador’s story was much more common in 2000 than it is now. Just a generation ago, 1 of every 4 Mexican children aged 5 to 14 was engaged in child labor.5  Today, Mexico has cut its child labor rate from 24% to 5% – a remarkable decline. This progress saves an estimated 4 million children a year from child labor.6

Data suggest Mexico’s progress has been broad-based, benefiting both male and female children, children from urban and rural areas, and children from all regions. Progress has been strong among the poorest households, and equity gaps are shrinking.7

The Mexican government regularly collects and disseminates information on child labor.8 It has also invested in education and provided incentives for children to attend school rather than work. Education reforms in the 1970s and 1980s helped create a new generation of more educated parents less inclined to send their children to work.9 The Prospera program, launched in 1997, offers small cash payments to impoverished parents to keep children in school and attend workshops on nutrition, hygiene and family planning.10 Improvements in living standards and an overall reduction in poverty also contributed to the decline in child labor, as did the movement of jobs away from the agricultural sector.11

Save the Children Mexico has partnered with the sugar industry to better comply with Mexico’s child labor laws and make changes in the way business is done. This alliance, established in 2012, identifies child labor risks throughout the sugar supply chain, finds alternatives for at-risk children and supports community work to prevent child labor in the fields. The partnership also advocates for better child labor regulations and has working groups to promote best practices.

There are still an estimated 3.2 million child laborers in Mexico, 134 so increased attention on this problem is needed, especially in rural areas. Amador is determined that his five boys will not be among that statistic. “I’m giving my children an education… so they can study and be someone in life.”

1. El Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía. “3.2 Milliones de Niños y Niñas y Adolescentes de 5 a 17 Años Trabajan en México: Módulo de Trabajo Infantil (MTI) 2017”

2. Understanding Children’s Work Programme. Understanding Trends in Child Labour: A Joint ILO-UNICEF-The World Bank Report. (Rome: 2017)

3. ILO. Global Estimates of Child Labour: Results and Trends, 2012-2016. and ILO. Global Child Labour Trends 2000 to 2004. (Geneva: 2006)

4. ILO. Marking Progress Against Child Labour: Global Estimates and Trends 2000-2012. (Geneva: 2013)

5. Includes household chores for at least 21 hours. 

6. National estimates for 2017 suggest child labor rates have declined further, to 3.6% of children aged 5-14. Source: El Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía. “3.2 Milliones de Niños y Niñas y Adolescentes de 5 a 17 Años Trabajan en México: Módulo de Trabajo Infantil (MTI) 2017” (2018) 

7. Understanding Children’s Work Program. The Mexican Experience in Reducing Child Labour: Empirical Evidence and Policy Lessons. (2012) 

8. UNICEF. Child Rights in Mexico.

9. Understanding Children’s Work Program. The Mexican Experience in Reducing Child Labour: Empirical Evidence and Policy Lessons.

10. Dávila Lárraga, Laura. How Does Prospera Work? Best Practices in the Implementation of Conditional Cash Transfer Programs in Latin America and the Caribbean. (Inter-American Development Bank: April 2016)

11. El Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía. “3.2 Milliones de Niños y Niñas y Adolescentes de 5 a 17 Años Trabajan en México: Módulo de Trabajo Infantil (MTI) 2017”