New York, USA – The number of unaccompanied minors entering the US without documentation in 2022 broke all records, reaching more than 130,000. The problem is not only the arrival of minors, but that these have become cheap labor that “are part of a new economy of labor exploitation”, according to an investigation by ‘The New York Times’. The Biden Administration announced additional measures and the formation of a group of experts to curb illegal child labor.
At 8 in the morning in the New York subway there is practically no room for a pin. Somehow, among so many people, a girl makes her way that, due to her appearance, should not be more than 12 years old.
She is thin, with long, disheveled hair, tied up with a headband that pulls it back from her face. In her hands she carries a box full of different chocolates. “Dollar chocolates,” she yells back and forth.
He approaches and I ask him how old he is. “11,” she replies. “Why are you selling chocolates?” I ask. “Because my mother needs me to help her and she doesn’t want me to be left alone in the room,” says the girl.
She says that she lives in a hotel room because she recently arrived in New York with her mother after a long trip from Venezuela. Immediately her mother appears and smiles when she realizes that we share a language. “Doesn’t she go to school?”, I question the woman. “Well, it helps me a lot,” she argues. She immediately takes her daughter’s hand and they both get off as soon as the subway stops to continue selling in another car.
A widespread practice throughout the United States
The situation is repeated in at least 20 states of the country, even at more worrying levels. In most cases, they are less than, according to an investigation by the local media ‘The New York Times’They work in factories linked to well-known companies.
“They bake rolls that are sold in Walmart and targetprocess the milk used in ice creams Ben & Jerry and help bone the chicken that is sold in Whole Foods”says the newspaper.
The Administration has a registry of all of them because, in principle, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is in charge of guaranteeing that the sponsors who welcome them when they enter the country maintain and protect them.
But the avalanche of undocumented minors is being of such magnitude that “social workers say they must analyze sponsors more quickly,” says the ‘Times’.
The newspaper adds that losing track of them is a possibility, but that although HHS verifies the status of all minors with a call a month after they start living with their sponsors, The data obtained by the media show that, throughout 2021 and 2022, “the agency failed to contact more than 86,000 children.”
A 70% increase in child labor violations
Among the consequences of this less control, since 2018 there has been a 70% increase in child labor violations, and almost 835 companies have not respected labor standards.
More than 3,800 children were employed for job performance in 2022, according to data from the Department of Labor. The secretary of this body, Marty Walsh, has asked Congress for a tougher hand against those who practice this type of contracting, since, according to what he maintains, “the maximum civil monetary penalty under current law for a violation of child labor is 15,138 dollars per child. It’s not high enough to deter profitable big business.”
The petition has not been the only one: in July 2022 there were 46 congressmen who demanded new regulations to protect children who work in the agricultural sector, relying on a report which ensures that the rate of deaths of minors in this work environment is higher than in any other.
The consequences of this scourge
Denise Núñez, PhD in Psychology, explains to France 24 the consequences of this scourge, assuring that the effects are severe: “The little ones must be in schools, being educated, developing intellectually. The fact that we do not allow this girl to do it, goes to bring some very serious consequences”, he exclaims.
It is a reality that cannot be understood individually. According to the United Nations, these cases are “the inevitable consequence of poverty.” Although the body assures: “We cannot resign ourselves to the fact that it exists.”
The latest global estimates of the international organization, dating from 2020show that “In the world, 160 million children are in child labor, which represents 1 in 10 children.”
UNICEF, for its part, ensures that child labor refers to children who “work in contravention of the rules of the International Labor Organization (ILO) that appear in Conventions 138 and 182.” The organization notes that “this includes all children under the age of 12 working in any economic activity, as well as those ages 12 to 14 working in a job other than light, and to boys and girls subjected to the worst forms of child labor”.
The reality is much more complex when minors are victims of labor exploitation in a foreign country, where they often do not understand the local language.
In addition, as explained by Dr. Núñez, in most cases their young age does not allow them to be aware of the extreme effort they carry out and put their lives in danger.
“Children can continue doing work and do not realize that they have not drunk water, that they have not gone to the bathroom, that they have not eaten, and this can have an extremely serious consequence on their physical health,” says the specialist.
For them, there is only the ultimate goal of their effort, which is sometimes to send money to their families in their countries of origin or pay off the debt they contracted with the coyotes to reach the United States —which often exceeds $15,000. Other times the only reason is simply to survive.
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