Some children working on farms in the United States face daily hardships that are legal, judging by the revelations of a new NBC investigation. Children as young as eight years old are working in agricultural fields in California’s Bay Area regions of San Joaquin and Sacramento. Some children are even told to lie about their ages in order to work.
According to NBC, a 1938 US law allows the children aged 12 and older to work in the agricultural sector. With their parents’ permission, younger children may perform certain tasks on a farm revealed information from Human Rights Watch’s Zama Coursen-Neff to the news source.
Those opposed to the law point to school drop-out rates and exhausting hours as some of the dangers of child farm labour. Children interviewed by NBC reported such complaints as it being too hard to work in the heat, which can exceed 40 degrees Celsius. One girl even reported carrying out work that injured her.
Over the past decade, farm-related injuries among youth younger than 20 have fallen by nearly one half. While injuries among younger children—aged 10 to 15—are also down, they remain the most common group injured.
"You have to realize that many children who are working in hazardous conditions in the United States are working absolutely legally because U.S. child labor law—which is pretty good—has a big gaping hole in it when it comes to agriculture," Ms. Coursen-Neff told NBC.
While some parents living on the margins of society are forced to allow their children to work, other may work hard to keep their children in school and far from the fields.
In related news, the United States Labor Department is not pursuing a proposal with regulations ensuring that farm workers must be at least 16 years old to operate power equipment and 18 to operate grain elevators, silos and feedlots.
These rules would not have applied to children on family farms. It would, however, apply to them if they sought paid work on the farms of relatives or others.
But, the department encountered opposition about the proposed regulations being overly strict and withdrew the proposal. Opponents contend that it is good for children to work to some extent and did not want new regulations to hurt family farms and agricultural clubs. Then, last week, the US House of Representatives passed a bill preventing regulatory changes barring children from working on large farms from being enacted in the near future.
Norma Flores Lopez, head of the Children in the Fields Campaign for the Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs, highlighted the differential rules for children in farm work as compared to mining or construction, for example.
“There is a set of rules that covers children working in every other industry and then there is a separate set of rules for kids working in agriculture,” she said.
The Labor Department has previously warned that children working on farms are four times more likely to die than children employed in all other industries.