Introduced in September 2009, by Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.), the Children’s Act for Responsible Employment or CARE Act, would protect U.S. farmworker children by extending the same child labor restrictions and hazardous work protections enjoyed by other children in America.

Needed: A Champion for Children

By Len Morris

Len Morris of Media Voices for Children

Len Morris of Media Voices for Children

If we are to have a government worthy of the America Jimmy Stewart described in his famous role as Senator Jefferson Smith, we’ll need champions in government that will protect those who are the weakest and most vulnerable among us – our children.

Today, hundreds of thousands of children work in America’s fields doing dangerous, unhealthy and adult work from sunrise to sunset…many under 14 years of age. They need a champion, one senator out of a hundred, who will step forward to protect them by introducing a law outlawing child labor in America’s fields, revising and repealing a law that’s been on the books since 1939, when America was a different place and American farms were small family affairs, not the corporate agribusiness of today.

The invisible children in our fields are victims of greed, racism and violated human liberties.

Greed is the driver, enabling companies to make huge profits at the expense of children’s health. Under current US law, child tobacco workers can be and are exposed to nicotine poisoning and the carcinogens of deadly pesticides. These kids’ human rights are violated with little notice or political consequence.

Yesenia, age 12, harvesting onions in South Texas (Photo courtesy of Robin Romano)

Yesenia, age 12, harvesting onions in South Texas (Photo courtesy of Robin Romano)

Meanwhile, politicians look the other way and pretend it’s not happening as they collect campaign contributions from those same companies. Senators and Representatives have somehow lost their voice when the constituent is a child who cannot vote.

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The Children’s Act for Responsible Employment (CARE Act) would help protect child farmworkers

Child farmworker Greccia Balli. Photo courtesy of Human Rights Watch.

Grecia Balli began working in farm fields when she was 10 years old. At age 14, she decided to drop out of school because her life as a migrant farmworker caused her to switch schools frequently, making it difficult for her to keep up academically. By age 17 she no longer dreamed of becoming a police officer, which had been her goal. Her life revolved around farm work.

Grecia is one of an estimated 400,000 to 500,000 children who work in U.S. agriculture. Interviewed for “Fingers to the Bone,” a film by U. Roberto Romano and Human Rights Watch, Grecia said she felt as though she had no choices as a farmworker. “You don’t feel the same as other kids.”

Child farmworkers aren’t treated the same as other children, either, under current U.S. labor laws. Seventy-five years after its passage, the antiquated Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938 continues to regulate child labor, but fails to provide children performing agricultural work with protections equal to those afforded other children. The FLSA restricts children younger than 16 years from working for more than three hours on a school day, but a loophole for the agricultural sector means children as young as 12 can legally work unlimited hours on farms before or after school, and children of any age can work on small farms, with their parents’ permission. Children 14 and older can work on any farm, without parental consent. Child agricultural workers are also permitted to perform hazardous work at age 16, while hazardous work is strictly reserved for adults in all other sectors.

Agriculture is one of the most dangerous industries and the most dangerous for children, according to U.S. Department of Labor statistics. “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,” says Child Labor Coalition (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.”

As Grecia’s story illustrates, schooling is also negatively impacted when children labor in agriculture. Many of them leave school before the term ends and return after it has begun. This can lead to academic difficulties. American Federation of Teachers Secretary-Treasurer and CLC Co-Chair Lorretta Johnson notes, “Fifty percent of children who regularly work on farms will not graduate from high school.” Child farmworkers have four times the national rate of school drop-out.

For more than a decade, the CLC has endeavored to address the issue of child agricultural labor and is working to help pass the Children’s Act for Responsible Employment (CARE), HR 2234, federal legislation re-introduced on June 12, 2013, by Representative Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA) to amend the FLSA.

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Child Labor Coalition Press Release: The CLC Welcomes the Reintroduction of the Children’s Act for Responsible Employment (CARE Act)

For immediate release: June 17, 2013
Contact: Reid Maki, (202) 207-2820, reidm@nclnet.org

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.

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CARE Act Reintroduced–Would Equalize Protections for Children Who Work in U.S. Agriculture

Child Labor Coalition Press Release

More progress needed to reduce child labor; Urgent action required on Uzbekistan, Domestic Workers Convention, and U.S. farmworker children

For release: June 10, 2011

Contact: NCL Communications, (202) 835-3323, media@nclnet.org

Washington, DC—As World Day Against Child Labor on June 12 approaches, the Child Labor Coalition (CLC) is alerting the public that more than 200 million children still toil around the world, often in dangerous jobs that threaten their health, safety, and education.

Here in the United States, the CLC is applauding the anticipated re-introduction of the Children’s Act for Responsible Employment (CARE), which Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA) plans to sponsor once again next week. The legislation [H.R. 2234] would close loopholes that permit the children of migrant and seasonal farmworkers to work for wages when they are only 12 and 13 years old, often in harsh conditions—10- to 12-hour days of bending over and performing repetitive tasks in 90- to 100-degree heat.

“It’s time to level the playing field by closing these loopholes, which go all the way back to 1938, when the Fair Labor Standards Act was introduced,” 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. “We must offer these children the same protections that all other American kids enjoy.”

“Working migrant children pay a heavy price educationally for their labor,” said Antonia Cortese, a Co-Chair of the CLC  and the Secretary-Treasurer of the American Federation of Teachers, which represents 1.5 million public service employees. “Many farmworker children leave school before the school year ends and return after it begins. The constant travel and work wears many children out. They struggle to catch up academically, but for many it’s a losing battle—and more than half never graduate high school.”

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