By Laura Valadez
Mexico´s President Peña Nieto has taken Office a few months ago; which conveys a good opportunity to revisit the national strategy of child poverty alleviation. According to the 2010 Census, there are more than 112 million people living in Mexico, out of which around 11.6 million are aged 0 to 5 years (INEGI, 2012). UNICEF (2012) estimates that more than 27% of Mexican children aged 5 years and younger live in households that do not have sufficient income to acquire food.
According to official estimates, six out of ten children up to 5 years of age are living in multi-dimensional poverty. In other words, around 6.6 million Mexican children under the age of 5 years live in households that are income-poor and that suffer from deprivation in at least one of the following: education, health services, social security, housing, public services, and nutrition (CONEVAL, 2012). Also, three out of ten children aged 5 or younger suffer from at least one of these dimensions of deprivation despite having sufficient income to acquire the basic basket of goods. Only nine out of one-hundred children under the age of 5 are not income poor nor deprived.
One could argue that things are not that bad: Living conditions for children in Mexico have generally improved during the last couple of decades. Under-fives mortality rate fell from 45% in 1990 to 17% in 2009; and school enrolment for girls increased from 61% in 1970 to 94% in 2005 (UNICEF, 2012). The proportion of children under 5 years who had a low weight-for-age fell from around 13% in 1988 to 5% in 2006; and those who were stunted (low height-for-age) went from 29% in 1988 to 16% in 2006 (World Bank, 2012).
Nevertheless, some important challenges for alleviating child poverty in Mexico remain:
- Rural-urban disparities: In Mexico, more than 60% of households identified as extremely poor are located in rural communities (World Bank, 2005). Under-nutrition among children under 5 years old is more prevalent in rural areas than in urban areas: While 37% of children living in rural areas suffer from stunting, 29% of those living in urban areas have a low height-for-age (Hernández et al, 2003).
- Ethnic disparities: Sixty-two indigenous groups encompass 10% of the population in Mexico. Nevertheless, as extensive research (Atal, Ñopo, and Winder, 2009; Bello and Rangel, 2002; Hall and Patrinos, 2004; CDI, 2012) has found, indigenous groups tend to have lower income, higher unemployment rates, worse quality of housing, lower educational level, and less participation in the public sphere than non-indigenous population. The proportion of indigenous children aged 5 years or younger who suffer from stunting is more than double than the proportion of non-indigenous children (UNICEF, 2012). That is, 33.2% of indigenous pre-schoolers, compared to 16% of non-indigenous children, have a low height-for-age. Furthermore, infant mortality among indigenous populations is 1.6 times the rate among non-indigenous populations. Child labor is also more prevalent among indigenous populations than among non-indigenous populations; while 36% of indigenous children aged 6 to 14 years are working, the national average of child labor for this age group is 15.7% (UNICEF, 2012).
Mexico faces important socio-economic challenges for alleviating childhood poverty, especially the rural-urban and ethnic gaps. Governmental action such as PROGRESA-Oportunidades, subsidized milk and basic goods programs, and Seguro Popular, seem to have been beneficial for improving children´s lives. However, it is intriguing how despite these efforts, there are still around 50% of children who are suffering from poverty. This is certainly something that the new Executive Power needs to consider.
Laura Valadez is Mexican; she holds a PhD in Social Policy from the University of Oxford. Her research specializes in childhood poverty, indicators of child wellbeing, and poverty alleviation programs. She has conducted research on childhood vulnerability and poverty for Young Lives at Oxford and has been a consultant for the World Bank. Su artículo ha sido uno de los finalistas del Concurso de Bloggers del BID.