Washington, D.C.—The Child Labor Coalition (CLC) applauds Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA) for introducing the Children’s Act for Responsible Employment (CARE), H.R. 2342, on World Day Against Child Labor, June 12th. The legislation would close loopholes that permit children in agriculture to work for wages when they are only age 12 or 13–and sometimes even younger. The bill would also limit hazardous work on farms by workers under the age of 18.
“Agriculture is the only industry governed by labor laws that allow children as young as 12 to work with virtually no restrictions on the number of hours they spend in the fields outside of the school day,” Rep. Roybal-Allard said in a press release this week. “We need this legislation because we know that agriculture is one of this country’s most dangerous occupations.”
“Children working for wages on farms are exposed to many hazards—farm machinery, heat stroke, and pesticides among them—and they perform back-breaking labor that no child should have to experience,” said CLC co-chair Sally Greenberg, the executive director of the National Consumers League, a consumer advocacy organization that has worked to eliminate abusive child labor since its founding in 1899. “Child farmworkers deserve the same protections that all other American kids enjoy. We applaud Rep. Roybal-Allard’s leadership in introducing CARE.”
AFT Secretary-Treasurer and CLC Co-Chair Lorretta Johnson added that child labor and migration have a profound impact on the education of child farmworkers. “Fifty percent of children who regularly work on farms will not graduate from high school. That is unacceptable,” said Johnson. “Until all children, regardless of where they are born, have the same opportunity to receive an education, we will continue advocating and fighting on their behalf.
“In the U.S., approximately 400,000 children are picking the very fruits and vegetables we eat today for low pay and with few protections,” said Norma Flores López, Director of the Children in the Fields Campaign at the Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs (AFOP) and Chair of the CLC Domestic Issues Committee. “Through the protections offered by the CARE Act, we will ensure that farmworker children can break the cycle of poverty by providing them with healthy, happy childhoods.”
“For too long, children laboring in U.S. agriculture have been denied the protections they deserve to ensure their health and well-being. Too often, kids working on commercial farms are subjected to dangerous, unhealthy, work that’s detrimental to their education and far too often results in harm or even death. The CARE Act would address this problem and give children working on farms the same protections as children working in other industries,” said Bruce Lesley, president of the First Focus Campaign for Children, a bipartisan children’s advocacy organization.
Passage of CARE is a priority of the CLC, whose membership includes many groups that work to protect child farmworkers in the U.S., including AFOP, Farmworker Justice, Human Rights Watch, Migrant Legal Action Program, the National Association of State Directors of Migrant Education, and the National Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Association. The CLC, founded in 1989, has 28 organizational members, including several of America’s largest unions.
In addition to raising the minimum age at which children could work in the field, CARE would establish minimum fines and raise them for employers who violate agricultural child labor laws when those violations lead to serious injury, illness, or death of minors. The legislation would also strengthen regulations that protect minors from pesticide exposure.
The children of farm owners, working on their parents’ farms, will continue to be exempted from US child labor law even if the CARE Act is enacted.