The state of Coahuila has been cracking down on child labor, rescuing some 200 children in the last two months who had been illegally hired as laborers.
Reports differ as to the total number of children working under substandard conditions but the underage workers, as young as eight years, have been taken to state shelters to be looked after while authorities determine where they are from.
The children were reportedly engaged in the cultivation of forage crops and in feeding livestock, working nine-hour days from 8:00am to 5:00pm, earning a daily salary of 100 pesos. On Sundays they worked until noon.
The children, mostly boys, were given a piece of bread and coffee for breakfast and were served vegetable soup for two other meals at 1:00pm and 6:00pm. Throughout the day their handlers gave them salted water to prevent dehydration.
The young laborers slept on foam pads inside sheds on the farms where they were employed, with limited washroom facilities.
Their employment wasn’t reported to the state’s Labor Secretariat, nor were the children enrolled in a social security scheme.
The children said their contracts were for two-month periods, at the end of which they could be rehired. Some had been working at the farms for four months. Most had been recruited from the states of Tamaulipas, Veracruz, Hidalgo and San Luis Potosí through want ads, and transported in buses to Coahuila.
In the most recent rescue operation, three men, laborers on the El Pedregal and Santa Cruz farms, were arrested by state officials. Both farms are located in the ejido of El Higo, Ramos Arizpe, and belong to Prokarne.
Two months ago, 14 children were rescued from similar conditions from farms in the municipality of Parras de la Fuente.
At the time, Labor Secretary Norma González said that as the harvest season began a joint operation with the Rural Development Secretariat get under way in an effort to deter farm owners from hiring underaged laborers.
She also warned that farm owners must verify the age of the laborers they are hiring, as they are often fooled by children who say they are of legal hiring age.
González said that during each harvest season some 4,000 laborers are hired by between 200 and 300 farming ranches in Coahuila, most of them located in the southwestern region of La Laguna and in the northern municipalities of the state. These farms are often located in remote locations, making them difficult to monitor.
In response, the secretariat has created a warning network for reports of irregularities.
Farm owners and their staff could face charges of human trafficking.