Voices From the Field: Mexico
Each day, Audelia heads to work on a tobacco farm in Santiago Ixcuintla
Nayarit, Mexico. Her job? To watch over her 14-month-old baby brother while
her poverty-stricken parents labor in the fields to try to make ends meet. Audelia is 4 years old.
taking care of her younger brother while her parents work the tobacco
fields in Mexico. (Photos by Robin Romano)
The Mexican preschooler is among hundreds of children who leave their homes
in the surrounding mountains each January to work in tobacco fields alongside
Many children, like Audelia, care for younger siblings. Some fetch water
from the nearby river for cooking and bathing. Others sort tobacco leaves.
Often, families work from sunrise until sunset for little more than $1 an hour. Low wages make it impossible for many of them to afford housing, so they are often forced to live in the fields.
"Families build little shacks with no walls next to where they work,"
says Viky Sosa of the International Labor Rights Fund (ILF), an organization that
advocates for the rights of workers worldwide. "They use tree branches,
plastic carpets, or tobacco leaves as a roof to protect themselves from the
rain and sun."
Still, during the days, it's hard to escape the sweltering heat. With
surging temperatures and little or no drinking water available, kids often
suffer from dehydration. It's also difficult to avoid pesticides, the
poisonous chemicals sprayed in fields to kill bugs. Pesticides can cause
skin irritations, breathing difficulties, brain damage, and other health
Laboring in the fields not only jeopardizes children's health, it also
costs them their education. A staggering 86 percent of children in the surrounding
communities of Nayarit do not attend school.
"Children are missing the opportunity to learn," says Gema Lopez Limon,
a professor at the Autonomous University of Baja California.
Inocencia Lopez, 10, and her brother Ambrosio, 9, are
two of the lucky ones. They go to school in the morning before returning to
the fields in the afternoon. Still, after a long day of labor, their fragile
bodies are tired and learning can be difficult.
at work in a tobacco field. Inocencia is one of the lucky ones.
She and her 9-year-old brother get to go to school when they are
not in the fields. (Photos by Robin Romano)
Sadly, Audelia may never get the chance to learn. Instead, she will
likely spend the rest of her life laboring in the fields.
"Children have no business in the workplace," says Lopez Limon. "The place for children is in school."