When I asked fifteen year old Lupita what she would like most if she had all the money in the world, she told me “a toothbrush”. Lupita is one of the thousands of kids who live in the dangerous environment of the Mexico City streets.
Lupita (15) and Adrian (14) - she is pregnant with their first child
Official estimates cite just over 3000 young people in their teens and twenties; many believe the figure to be ten times higher. I was in Mexico City recently with cameraman, Patrick Fries, to shoot features for “21st Century” and for the launch of the United Nations Population Fund’s (UNFPA) global initiative to mark the world’s population reaching 7 billion in October 2011. As the world becomes ever more crowded, the trend is a movement of people from rural areas to cities creating vast urban sprawls like Mexico City. With a population of over 20 million, it is now rated as the eighth largest mega-city in the world.
Marisol with her baby, Diego
Me sharing a peaceful moment with Diego
And for the young people who are also attracted to life in the city, the pavements are rarely paved with gold. Many end up living in the tough environment of the streets where violence is a daily occurrence; conditions are squalid; addiction to a drug called “mona” (a toxic, industrial solvent which they sniff) kills hunger but eventually rots their bodies and their brains; life expectancy is around 30 years old; and the girls face even greater dangers in the form of sexual violence and the need to trade their bodies for favours and survival.
See our upcoming feature on “21st Century” which follows the lives of Lupita, now pregnant with her first child, and twenty-four year old Marisol who is fighting both drug-addiction and for the right to keep her young baby, born into life on the streets.