Latin America and the Caribbean

El Universal/El Gran Diario de México
30 April 1997

Street Children in Trouble
by Kristen Smith

Over 13,370 children work in the streets, said Mexico City's Secretary of Education, Health and Social Development, Javier Vega Camargo. Of those, 87 percent live on the street and are exposed to violence, drugs, and AIDS through sexual promiscuity.

"We are looking at a time bomb that's going to go off in everyone's face in five or ten years," said the director of Casa Alianza de México, referring to AIDS.

José Manuel Capellín Corrada estimates that 95 percent of street children takes drugs, mainly in the form of inhalants like paint thinner and airplane glue.

"Right now the Mexican government is waging a 1.5 billion dollar drug war. I wish they'd just spend a little of that on the war against inhalants," he said.

Street children also face violence from police and labor exploitation, but most of them cannot file a complaint with the México City Human Rights Commission because they have no birth certificates, said Vega. "Without a birth certificate it's as if they do not exist. They cannot file complaints. They can do nothing," he said.

The Education Secretariat's judicial branch registers around 90 children a day for birth certificates as part of its Alliance For Children, said Vegas.

Casa Alianza gives its 540 children an identity, said Capellín. "In our 24-hour group homes, kids get individual attention, they get their own name. They are not called 'rat' or 'x' but Juan or Pedro," he said.

The Education Secretariat Alliance also has two shelters -- one for boys, one for girls -- of 800 children each. In addition, it has 26 group homes that house eight youths and two social workers.

What the México City Education Secretariat has yet to catch up with is the number of children without an education. The Constitution says every child has the right to an education, a right that is not being met, said the Director of the Mexican Academy of Human Rights.

"Mexico is in the process of education downsizing. In Mexico there are more students than there are schools because of increased population and the (peso) crisis," said Gloria Ramírez Hernández. Public schools also lose approximately 41 percent of their students to attrition, she added. Ramírez was one of several education and human rights experts who met yesterday for the second day of a two-day "The Child, His Rights and Values for the Next Century" forum held at the city's Human Rights Commission.

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