Long-term effects of child poverty in Mexico

AUSTIN, Texas— Mexico has grown throughout its history. However, a critical problem is hidden from public perception. According to a 2018 study, nearly half of mexican children Living in poverty. Research shows that child poverty has various physical, mental and psychological effects that last into adulthood. The Borgen Project spoke with Mexican-born Olga Alicia Menchaca to learn more about her experience growing up in child poverty in Mexico.

Many in Mexico struggle for work

“I was the 7th of 14 siblings,” Menchaca told the Borgen Project. Born and raised in Frontera, Coahuila, Menchaca was granted enormous responsibilities from an early age. She began working at age 14, handling the finances of her father’s ranch and taking care of household chores.

Many children in child poverty in Mexico are subjected to illegal working conditions. In the case of Menchaca, this was no exception. “We all worked, all of us. There were so many of us,” she said. According to a 2017 study of 5-17 year olds, 13.6% of Mexican boys and 8.4% of Mexican girls were employed illegally. The trend of working miners has decreased, meaning it may have been much higher during Menchaca’s time.

Moreover, working from an early age often leads to sacrificing education. In a US study conducted in 2017, only 62% of children who grew up in poverty graduated from high school at age 20. By comparison, 90% of children who have never experienced poverty graduate from high school by the age of 20. Menchaca only studied in primary school with courses in confectionery and cosmetology. However, she dropped out of school due to her sister’s sexual assault on school grounds. Unfortunately, this is not a unique story for many families living in poverty. A 2017 study found that victims from low-income households were 12 times more likely to report a sexual assault than victims with middle-class incomes.

Psychological and physical effects of child poverty

Research shows that child poverty has lasting psychological effects. In 2013, researchers found that adults who grew up in poverty tend to show a feeling of helplessness. Menchaca described her feelings towards the difficult times in her home stating that she “got used to everything. When we had [money]we thanked God, but when we didn’t, we just had to live with it. While not particularly optimistic, her response is similar to that of many people who feel they have no other choice. Impotence means “the belief that there is no one can do anything to improve a bad situation (like a diagnosis of an illness). In many ways, therefore, powerlessness is a belief that control of the situation or its outcome is impossible.

Menchaca’s experiment seemed to fit this conclusion. She believes that the only way to deal with the current economic situation at home is to live with it. Menchaca said she had never been depressed, something not usually associated with a feeling of helplessness.

Many studies also mention the lasting physical effects of child poverty. In Menchaca’s case, she said she had suffered from epilepsy since childhood. A study that took place in 2017 investigated the occurrence of epilepsy in low-income populations and found that “80% of the people concerned reside in low- or middle-income countries. Additionally, “the incidence and prevalence of epilepsy in low-income populations is higher than in the rest of the world.” However, it is not only epilepsy that can develop in poor children, but a wide range of diseases such as arthritis, cardiovascular disease, lung disease or obesity.

Difficulties through the eyes of the innocent

Finally, child poverty puts children in situations where they lack basic necessities. Many do not have access health care, housing, food, drinking water or education. Menchaca shared a personal anecdote with The Borgen Project about a particular night at his house. She said, “When I was 11 or 12, I had to cook for my siblings. One of the dishes that I would like to cook because it was quick and easy was boiled eggs. I remember we only had a dozen eggs left and I made them for my siblings. I didn’t have dinner that night but preferred that my older sister eat.

Children sometimes have to choose between keeping food for themselves or feeding their siblings. No child should have to choose to lose a meal. Sadly, this is the case for many Mexican children facing poverty.

The silver lining

Fortunately, many have noticed the prevalence of child poverty in Mexico. Many NGOs like World Vision Mexico Where Casa Hogar Alegria working to help children in poverty by providing them with housing, clothing and education. In addition to these programs, the government must also intervene, but the programs are a step in the right direction. Raising awareness is vital for these children who must fight against poverty. Moreover, acting now is essential to prevent the lifelong consequences that affect people mentally and physically. Supporting the funding of organizations that help these children will be a springboard to a future of hope.

– Kler Teran
Photo: Flickr

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