By Natasha Ghoneim / AlJazeera
“Cutting sugar cane is like running a marathon every day.”
That’s what the leader of a 35-person crew in the state of Veracruz, Mexico told me as the sound of fire cackled in the air and a cloud of ash was raining down on us. The tinny monotony of machetes slicing into sugar cane stalks was a kind of musical accompaniment to one of the hardest day’s work I’ve seen.
Cutting sugar cane is not just like “running a marathon”. It’s like running while inhaling dangerous smoke from burning the sugar cane, with the risk of cutting yourself with a machete, being bitten by snakes and scorpions, and without enough water and protein to keep you hydrated and give you energy.
Seeing Mexican teenage boys, many still years before their growth spurts, working in such difficult conditions is a stark reminder that for so many in the world, economic necessity puts kids in the workforce.
According to the National Statistics Institute, 2.5 million kids are working in Mexico. A 2013 World Bank report says 870,000 working children are below age 13.