THE SITUATION OF ECONOMIC,
SOCIAL AND CULTURAL RIGHTS IN MEXICO*
This document was prepared by a coalition of Mexican NGOs, within
the framework of the examination of the Third Periodic Report (1992-1996)
of the Mexican Government by the United Nations Committee on Economic,
Social and Cultural Rights. This document represents a collective effort
brought about by our concern for the increasing and systematic nature of
human rights violations in Mexico, reflected in the United Nations Human
Rights Committee's recent observations in connection with the situation
in Mexico (CCPR/C/79/Add.109).
Our country is experiencing a serious downturn in the general
living conditions of increasing numbers of Mexicans. This is largely a
result of the structural adjustment policies implemented during the past
17 years which prioritise macroeconomic market indicators over the welfare
of the population. This deterioration has become more accentuated since
the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) entered into force in 1994.
Such policies have proven incompatible with the spirit and letter of the
International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and deepen
the economic and social inequalities that exist amongst the population.
The narrow-focussed national poverty-alleviation programmes which
have been favoured over the past few years are selective, short-term and
function as mere palliatives rather than addressing the structural causes
of poverty. These programmes, for instance the Programme for Education,
Health and Nutrition (PROGRESA), referred to by the Mexican Government
in its Third Report to the Committee, are used for political and electoral
ends, heightening discrimination and hindering the construction of a truly
democratic political system which is vital for social development.
Mexico’s rural population is most intensely affected by such factors,
in particular the more than ten million indigenous Mexicans. For years,
institutionalised violence in Chiapas has been reflected in the systematic
nature of human rights violations and the impunity which inevitably follows.
The armed conflict which started in 1994 aggravated this situation, and
serves as a warning about the conditions in which indigenous peoples and
campesinos throughout the country survive. It is unacceptable that several
of the Mexican states richest in natural and cultural resources (including
Chiapas, Guerrero, Oaxaca and Veracruz), register the highest levels of
poverty and marginalisation in the country.
The Mexican Government's economic and social policies have a marked
gender bias, to the detriment of women, whose burden of labour, as well
as discrimination in various spheres, is increased. It is not enough for
the Government to recognise the increasing feminisation of poverty. Policies
must be redefined from a perspective that integrates women as fully-fledged
actors, with specific needs and capabilities.
The following figures illustrate these concerns:
POVERTY AND INCOME
According to official figures from the Ministry for Social Development,
in 1996 there were 40 million poor people in Mexico, of which 26 million
were living in conditions of extreme poverty (1). In 1994, the official
figure was 17 million extremely poor people. In other words, the number
of people living in such conditions increased by 9 million in just two
According to figures from the Colegio de México University, the
number of poor people living in the country in 1994 was 61.7 million, of
which 36.2 million lived in conditions of extreme poverty. In 1996 these
figures had increased to 72.2 million poor, of which 50.9 million were
extremely poor (2). In other words an increase of 15 million in two
years, according to this non-official figure.
Salaries lost an accumulated 86% of their purchasing power between 1976
and 1998. A 280% increase would be needed in order for salaries to regain
their buying power of twenty years ago (3).
Unemployment rose from 819,000 individuals to 1,354,700 between 1993 and
The Government’s strategy of privatising state companies, which was intensified
during the period covered by the report, is clearly in violation of the
labour rights of workers. For example, in the case of the privatisation
of railways, staff numbers were reduced by approximately 75% in just 8
years, from 82,000 in 1990 to 12,500 in 1998. (5)
In 1995, women earned an average $695 pesos for every $1,000 earned by
men for the same job. (6)
The Mexican Institute of Social Security (IMSS) and Mexican Petroleum (PEMEX),
amongst other federal and state governmental institutions, as well as 56
assembly plants (maquiladoras) throughout the country, request medical
certification that potential employees are not pregnant, and dismiss employees
for pregnancy. (7)
In Mexico, not including Mexico City, 114,497 children under the age of
17 live or work in public areas. Almost 140,000 children work in the informal
sector, of which 24% work for tips in self-service shops packing grocery
In 1995, 13,373 minors were reported to be living and working on
the streets of Mexico City. UNICEF’ statistics indicate that today's figure
would be nearer to 20,000. (9)
The infant mortality rate for rural areas and areas with high indigenous
populations is 90 deaths per 1000 live births, versus 20 per 1000 in Mexico
City, and 50 per 1000 in the country as a whole. (10)
Social assistance programmes to combat malnutrition have not reached rural
areas, where 58% of children under five demonstrate physical and mental
problems as a result of poor nutrition. In indigenous areas 73.6% of under-fives
show some degree of malnutrition, the same proportion as 22 years ago.
In 1996, three years after the signing of NAFTA, an unprecedented quantity
of basic food grains (more than 12 million tonnes) was imported by Mexico.
This reflects Mexico's dependency on food exports as well as discouraging
the campesino agricultural sector. (12)
In 1993, 59% of the total number of people without access to health
services were women. (13)
In 1994, the number of abortions in Mexico was approximately 1,700,000,
of which some 50% were induced, which reflects both the lack of access
to sexual and reproductive health information, and health services for
Mexican women. (14) The fourth highest cause of death amongst women
in Mexico is abortion. (15)
In 1998 there were at least 260,511 people infected with HIV/AIDS in Mexico,
of which approximately 49% lacked access to health services. (16)
Figures from the Second National Health Survey of 1994, carried out
by the Ministry for Health, show that in the north of the country the rate
of hospitalisation is 41.3 inhabitants per 1000, while in the south-east
and Gulf regions it is 17.7 per 1,000. In Mexico City the rate is 31.6
per 1,000 inhabitants. The incidence of infectious diseases, malnutrition
and reproductive health problems is 2.2 times higher for people who inhabit
rural areas than those who live in urban areas. (17)
In 1996, the total number of people covered by social security was
less than a third of the working economically active population, and only
16.7% of the rural population had access to the social security system.
The reforms to the Mexican Institute of Social Security Act, approved in
1995, represent a clear step back in terms of respect for economic, social
and cultural rights. By privatising the pension scheme, they destroy the
previous system of inter-generational support between workers and affect
the rights acquired by workers, for instance to a retirement pension, severance
pay and old-age pension after 500 weeks work, which now becomes effective
only after 1250 weeks. (19)
In 1993, 13.6% of the adult female population was illiterate compared to
8.9% of the adult male population, and the number of women students was
6% less than that of men. (20)
In 1995 there was a shortage of adequate housing in Mexico of 4.6
million homes: more than 3.5 million required significant improvements
to the structure, materials or services, while 1.1 million needed to be
substituted by new homes.(21) These figures do not include the need for
780,000 to 850,000 new homes each year.
Outside of urban areas, 5.5 million homes lack piped water, 5.6 million
are not connected to the street drainage system and almost 1 million lack
electricity. Indigenous communities are the most affected. (22)
Between January 1997 and June 1999 a total of 39,500 families were evicted
from their living places in repossessions, natural disasters or by landlords.
The financial policy regarding the purchasing of public housing,
excludes more than 40% of Mexican families who do not fulfil the requirement
of earning three times the minimum wage.(24) Between 60 and 70%
of the population build their own housing without government support. (25)
THE SITUATION IN CHIAPAS
The national budget is allocated in such a way as to favour military
spending (which was 272.4% greater than that allocated to the Ministry
for Social Development in 1994, and in 1999 was four times the total sum
for poverty alleviation programmes) (26); or the bank-rescue package (the
1998 budget for Ministry for Social Development represents just 3.5% of
the total amount spent this year on rescuing private banks, through the
Banking Fund for Protection of Savings, FOBAPROA). (27)
Of 96% of the municipalities in Chiapas, 34.23% have extremely high
levels of poverty, 50.45% are considered to suffer high poverty levels,
and 10.81% medium levels. Chiapas is the state with the highest number
of municipalities with extremely high levels of poverty. (28)
In 1997 the number of military officers stationed in Chiapas rose
to 65,100 of a total of 182,328 nation-wide. In other words one of every
three military officers is stationed in Chiapas. (29)
In Chiapas there is one medical doctor for every 1,178 inhabitants,
which is below half the national average. In the conflict zone there
is less than one doctor per 18,900 inhabitants. (30)
Chiapas is in first place in the country in terms of reported cases of
cholera, diarrhoea and deaths due to tuberculosis. (31)
In Chiapas 30.12% of the population is illiterate, almost three times
the national average. This situation is typical of regions with a high
indigenous and/or rural population. (32)
Between 1994 and November 1998, there were approximately 21,159 displaced
persons in Chiapas, which represents about 4,063 indigenous families. (33)
CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
We believe that the failure of the Mexican Government to include information
regarding the above concerns precludes the Committee on Economic, Social
and Cultural Rights from effectively evaluating progress made towards compliance
with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
We consider that such omissions represent a violation of articles 16 and
17 of the Covenant.
It is worrying that the Mexican Government has not responded
satisfactorily to the observations and recommendations made by the Committee
on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in connection to the Second Periodic
Report (E/C.12/1993/16). The examination of the Government’s Third Report
by this Committee resulted in questions, observations and recommendations
that are of vital importance for the construction of the conditions necessary
to ensure full respect for ESC Rights, as well as human rights more generally,
As members of Non-Governmental Organisations working in areas
related to these rights, we ask the Committee to take into account the
information and concerns presented in our alternative report, in order
to call on the Mexican Government to implement the following recommendations:
To reduce military spending and prioritise a real increase in social
spending, in particular in the areas of health, education and social security.
To enshrine the right to food in the national Constitution.
To review the reservation made at the moment of signing the International
Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in connection with article
8, regarding the rights to unionise, to union freedom and to strike. These
rights are enshrined in the Constitution as well as in the corresponding
To promote administrative measures and legislative reforms to implement
free, universal and secret ballots in union elections.
To promote a wages policy that guarantees compliance with article 90 of
the Federal Work Act, stipulating that the minimum wage should be sufficient
to satisfy the normal needs of an average family (in size and socio-cultural
terms), and provide compulsory education to children.
To ratify International Labour Organisation Convention 158, regarding the
termination by an employer of a labour contract for: "d) race, colour,
sex, civil status, family responsibilities, pregnancy, religion, political
opinions, nationality or social origin; e) absence of work during maternity
To establish within the Federal Work Act, the prohibition and sanction
for employers for demanding medical certification of non-pregnancy from
To reform paragraph B of article 102 of the Constitution in order
to grant the state and federal governmental Human Rights Commissions competency
to investigate labour issues.
To adopt adequate security measures to allow for the safe return of the
displaced population in Chiapas.
To take measures to avoid the use of public social funds for political-electoral
* ORGANISATIONS THAT PARTICIPATED IN THE COMPILATION OF THIS ALTERNATIVE
(In alphabetical order)
Casa y Ciudad, AC Coalición Mexico, member of the Habitat
International Coalition, Human Rights Centre "Miguel Agustín Pro
Juárez" (PRODH), Centro de Reflexión y Acción Laboral
(Centre for Reflection and Labour Action, CEREAL), Comisión Mexicana
de Defensa y Promoción de Derechos Humanos A.C (Mexican Commission
for Defence and Promotion of Human Rights, CMDPDHAC), Colectivo Mexicano
de Apoyo a la Niñez (Mexican Collective in Support of Children,
COMEXANI), Convergencia de Organismos Civiles por la Democracia (Forum
of Civil Organisations for Democracy), DECA Equipo Pueblo, Defensoría
del Derecho a la Salud (Defence for the Right to Health), Food First Information
and Action Network - Mexican section (FIAN-Mexico), Liga Mexicana de Defensa
de los Derechos Humanos (Mexican League for the Defence of Human Rights,
LIMEDDH), Red de Jóvenes por los Derechos Sexuales y Reproductivos
(Youth Network for Sexual and Reproductive Rights, ELIGE), Red Nacional
de Organismos Civiles de Derechos Humanos "Todos los Derechos para Todos"
(National Network of Human Rights NGOs "All Rights for All").
1) Statement by Esteban Moctezuma, ex Secretary of Social Development,
cited in ‘El Universal’ national newspaper article, "Preciso fortalecer
el federalismo en ese ámbito, sostiene Moctezuma B.", 19 July 1998.
2) Boltvinik, Julio, Specialist investigator on poverty, Colegio de
México University, "15 millones más de pobres extremos!",
published in La Jornada, 16 October 1998.
3) Centre for Multidisciplinary Research, Investigation report 50, Los
hogares mexicanos, November 1998, Department of Economics, National Autonomous
University of Mexico (UNAM).
4) Federal Executive, IV Informe de Gobierno, 1998, Annexes 36, 37 y
5) Centro de Reflexión y Acción Laboral (CEREAL), Los
derechos humanos laborales: el lado obscuro de la modernización,
Informe sobre la violación de los derechos humanos laborales en
1998, Mexico, 1999, p.28.
6) Acosta U., Mariclaire; "Vencer la discriminación de la mujer
en México es una tarea para Sísifo", cited in the Mexican
NGO Report for the Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination Against
Women (CEDAW), presented by Mexican women’s and human rights NGOs, mimeo,
7) Campaña Nacional para Desalentar el Despido por Embarazo y
el Examen de No Gravidez (National Campaign Against Dismissals for Pregnancy
and Pregnancy Tests in Recruitment), Summary of Cases presented in the
frame-work of the Tribunal de Conciliación entre la Maternidad y
el Trabajo (Maternity and Labour Reconciliation Tribunal), Mexico City,
8) Sistema Nacional para el Desarrollo Integral de la Familia (National
System for Family Development DIF), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF),
and United Nations International Drugs Programme. Study of children and
adolescent workers in 100 cities, "Yo también cuento," Mexico, 1999.
9) El Universal, national newspaper, 24 February 1999. p. 17
10) Avila, Curiel, Shama Levi and Chaves Villasana of the Instituto
Nacional de Nutrición Salvador Zubirán (Salvador Zubirán
National Institute of Nutrition, INZS) National Survey of Rural Nutrition,
j. , Mexico, 1996.
11) Salvador Zubirán National Institute of Nutrition, National
Survey of Rural Food and Nutrition, 1997.
12) Red Mexicana de Acción Frente al Libre Comercio (RMALC),
Espejismo y Realidad: El TLCAN tres años después. Análisis
y propuesta desde la sociedad civil, México, 1997.
13) Center for Reproductive Law and Policy y Grupo de Información
en Reproducción Elegida (CRLP-GIRE). Derechos Reproductivos de la
Mujer en México :un reporte sombra, México, December 1997.
14) Elu Ma. Carmen and Langer, Ana (eds). Maternidad sin Riesgos en
México, Mexican Institute of Social Studies, Mexico, 1994. p. 86
15) Virginia Chambers, Subdirectora de Programas en América
Latina, IPAS, 1993, cited in La LVI Legislatura ante la ética, el
derecho y el aborto, Grupo de Infromación en Reproducción
Elegida, GIRE, México, 1995, pp.22-23.
16) Information provided by PROPOSITIVO, Human Rights Centre "Miguel
Agustín Pro Juárez", A.C., Mexico D.F., mimeo, 1999.
17) Mexican Fund for Health. Economía y Salud, Propuesta para
el avance del Sistema de Salud en México, First Edition, Mexico
D.F., 1997, p. 51.
18) Laurell, Asa Cristina; No hay pierde: todos pierden. Lo que usted
necesita saber sobre la nueva Ley del IMSS, Instituto de la Revolución
Democrática-Coyuntura, 1996, p. 5, and National Population Council
(CONAPO), La demanda de atención de salud en México, Mexico
1995, p. 29.
19) CEREAL, op. cit., pp. 42-43.
20) UNDP - Human Development Report, 1996.
21) Ministry for Social Development (SEDESOL), National Housing Programme
22) Casa y Ciudad, A.C. - Coalición Habitat México, elaboración
propia con base en Instituto Nacional de Estadística, Geografía
e Informática (INEGI), Encuesta Nacional de Ingreso Gasto de los
Hogares, 1992, 1994, 1996. México, 1999.
23) Casa y Ciudad, A.C. - Coalición Hatitat México. Los
desalojos en México, database of press reports, 1997,1998 y 1999,
and Centro de Información Documental del Centro Operacional de
Vivienda y Poblamiento (COPEVI, A. C.) Sumario Informativo, La Vivienda,
24) Aguilar, Genaro. Ricos y Pobres en México, 1984 a 1996.
Speech to be read in Septembre 1999 at the VII Congress of Latin American
and Caribbean Economists in Río de Janeiro, Brazil.
25) Ministry for Social Defence, SEDESOL and the National Federation
of Industrial Promoters, PROVIVAC, A.C., 1997-1998
26) Information from the Special Report published in El Financiero
newspaper, 11 May 1997 and Análisis del Presupuesto de Egresos de
1999 (Analysis of the 1999 Budget), by the PRD Parliamentary Group, Coyuntura
89, December 1998, p. 56.
28) CONAPO, Indicadores socioeconómicos e índice de marginación
29) Research by Jesusa Cervantes and Juan Antonio Zúñiga,
journalists from La Jornada national newspaper, cited in Castro, Gustavo
and Hidalgo, Onécimo. Militarización y Paramilitarización
en Chiapas, CIEPAC, Mexico,1997.
30) National Health System, Información Básica del Estado
de Chiapas, México, 1995.
31) Centro de Investigación y Estudios para la Acción
Comunitaria (CIEPAC)-Diócesis de San Cristóbal de las Casas,
Information about Chiapas, web site http://www.laneta.apc.,org/curiasc/datochis.html.
32) INEGI, Anuario estadístico del Estado de Chiapas, 1994.
33) Castro, Gustavo and Hidalgo, Onécimo, Los desplazados internos
en Chiapas, ‘Chiapas al Día’ Bulletin, No. 168, Centro de Investigación
y Estudios para la Acción Comunitaria (Research and Study Centre
for Community Action. CIEPAC), Chipas, 28 August 1999.