"The United States spends over $25 million a year - more than all other countries combined -
to eliminate child labor abroad, yet is tolerating exploitative child labor in its own backyard."
A new report by Human Rights Watch has been delivered. It is on Child Labour. In "Fields of Peril: Child Labor in US Agriculture", it has been found that child farmworkers risked their safety, health, and education on commercial farms across the United States.
"The United States is a developing country when it comes to child farmworkers", said Zama Coursen-Neff, author of the report.
Agriculture is the most dangerous work open to children in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control's National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).
Children risk pesticide poisoning, serious injury, and heat illness. They suffer fatalities at more than four times the rate of children working in other jobs. Some work without even the most basic protective gear, including shoes or gloves.
As a result of their long working hours, children who do agricultural work in the US (over 500,000 children!) drop out of school at four times the national rate.
The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)
The current child labor law was drafted in the 1930's when many more children worked on family farms. “It's time the US updated its antiquated child labor laws to give children who work for hire in agriculture the same protections as all other working children”, ensures Coursen-Neff.
In September 2009, Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard of California introduced the Children's Act for Responsible Employment (HR 3564) in the House of Representatives. It has over 80 co-sponsors, and has been endorsed by over 80 organizations, including the AFL-CIO, American Federation of Teachers, NAACP, and United Farm Workers of America. However, no action has been taken on the bill.
Their own voices (by HRW)
"I really didn't have a childhood, and I don't want [my own children] to go through what I did. You're a kid only once. Once you get old you have to work" – 17-year-old boy who had been cutting Christmas trees, picking tomatoes, and working in other crops since age 12 in North Carolina.
"[When I was 12] they gave me my first knife. Week after week I was cutting myself. Every week I had a new scar. My hands have a lot of stories” – 17-year-old boy who started working at age 11 in Michigan.
"You're put to work every day; you hardly get a break unless it's raining. Kids get so happy [when it starts to rain] that they're screaming" – 15-year-old boy who works in Michigan during the summer.
"Here there are a lot of chemicals in the field. . . .You can smell them. [Recently] the plane sprayed, sprayed the cotton. . . .I felt dizzy. I covered my face and kept working. No one told us to get out of the field" – 18-year-old youth who had worked from age 8 or 9 hoeing cotton in Texas alongside other children.
"I don't remember the last time I got to school registered on time. . . . I'm afraid it's going to hold me back on my education. . . . I got out of math because I was a disaster. I would tell the teacher, ‘I don't even know how to divide, and I'm going to be a sophomore.' I'm going from place to place. It scrambles things in my head, and I can't keep up" – 15-year-old girl hoeing cotton in Texas.
"My son, he needs his playtime. He can't work 30 hours a week. He can work three to four hours a few times a week. . . . As an employer you can't say ‘I'll hire 13-, 14- year olds.' No! I don't support that" – Farm operator whose 12-year-old son works on his farm in Michigan.
"I tell my daughter, ‘I'm so sorry I stole your childhood from you.'" – Mother whose 11-year-old daughter worked hoeing cotton and caring for her younger brothers.
More stories like these can be found in a feature length documentary by Roberto Romano in association with Shine Global. Check out the trailer of “The Harvest”.
Some global stats on Child Labour
Pressure US Congress to pass the care act (here)