The U.S. Congress and indivual states have tried to tackle child labor problems through legislative remedies.

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.

Read more

CLC and 57 Groups Urge Congress to Pass the “Children Don’t Belong in Tobacco Fields” Legislation Banning ChildLabor in US Tobacco

[Our  NGO letter supports legislation to ban child labor in US tobacco fields. There is both a Senate and a House version in the current Congress–HR 1848 and S 974]

 

April 16, 2015
Dear Senator/Representative:
We write to you as organizations representing millions of Americans, including teachers, healthcare professionals, workers, farmworkers, and advocates concerned about children’s safety. We are alarmed at reports that children are risking acute nicotine poisoning and other health and safety hazards in US tobacco fields. We urge you to co-sponsor the Children Don’t Belong in Tobacco Fields Act, which would prohibit children under the age of 18 from employment that brings them into direct contact with tobacco. This legislation would not affect children working on their family’s farm.

A study released last year by Human Rights Watch found that child tobacco workers on US farms are exposed to nicotine, toxic pesticides, extreme heat, and other dangers. Nearly three-quarters of the child tobacco workers they interviewed had experienced symptoms including nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, headaches, dizziness, difficulty breathing, skin rashes, and irritation to their eyes and mouths. Many of these symptoms are consistent with acute nicotine poisoning, also known as Green Tobacco Sickness.
According to a new bulletin published by OSHA and NIOSH, children and adolescents who handle tobacco may be more sensitive to chemical exposures, more likely to suffer from green tobacco sickness, and may suffer more serious health effects than adults. Public health experts have found that nicotine exposure in adolescence can cause mood disorders and lasting deficits in cognition.… Read the rest

New Legislation Introduced to Protect US Children Working in Tobacco Fields –Please Call Your Member of Congress and Ask them to Support

Children Don’t Belong on Tobacco Farms Act

The Children Don’t Belong on Tobacco Farms Act (S.974/H.R.1848) would end the practice of children working on tobacco farms, where nicotine absorbed through the skin while handling tobacco plants can lead to nicotine poisoning.

The bill amends the Fair Labor Standards Act to prohibit children under the age of 18 from coming into direct contact with tobacco plants or dried tobacco leaves. U.S. law prohibits children under the age of 18 from buying cigarettes, but allows children as young as 12 to work in tobacco fields.

Nicotine Poisoning and Other Risks
Human Rights Watch published a 2014 report based on interviews with 140 children who worked on U.S. tobacco farms in 2012 and 2013. The majority of children were working for hire. Key findings include:
• Child tobacco workers began working at age 11 or 12, working 50-60 hours per week.
• Children experienced nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, dizziness, lightheadedness, headaches, and sleeplessness while working on tobacco farms.
• Children worked in hot conditions with jobs ranging from harvesting tobacco plants to applying toxic pesticides.
• Many pesticides used in tobacco production are known neurotoxins. Long-term effects include cancer, neurological deficits, and reproductive health problems.

Protections for Child Workers
The U.S. has no specific restrictions to protect children from nicotine poisoning or other risks associated with tobacco farming. In most jobs outside agriculture, children are not allowed to work before age 15. The Federal Youth Employment Laws in Farm Jobs set standards for child workers in agriculture, but it does not specifically address tobacco farms.… Read the rest

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.

Read more