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

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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Please Support the Education for All Act

Today, over 60 million children around the world do not have access to basic education and of that number; almost 50 percent of them are expected to never enroll.  To help ensure that all children, regardless of where they were born, have access to a quality education by sending a letter to your Representative asking for their support of the Education for All Act introduced by Reps. Nita Lowey and Dave Reichert.

For more information on the issues surrounding worldwide access to quality education, please visit www.gce-us.org.… Read the rest

CLC Letter to Congress: Do Not Pass HR 4517

[Unfortunately, HR 4517 passed the House on a voice vote July 24, 2012]

July 24, 2012

The Honorable Linda Sanchez

House of Representatives

2423 Rayburn Building
Washington, DC 20515

 

Dear Ms. Sanchez:

The 28-members of the Child Labor Coalition (CLC) write to ask you to oppose H.R. 4157, which has the misleading title, ”Preserving America’s Family Farms Act.”

Given that the Department of Labor (DOL) withdrew the proposed hazardous occupations orders for agriculture in April and announced that they would not be re-issued during the Obama administration, H.R. 4157 serves no purpose.

The legislation does however send a dangerous message, suggesting that the Department of Labor’s goal of protecting children on farms was misguided. Nothing could be further from the truth. Agriculture is the most dangerous sector that children are allowed to work in, with fatality and injury rates that are truly frightening. The Child Labor Coalition estimates that the withdrawn hazardous occupations orders would have saved 50 to 100 children working on farms from work place fatalities. It would have saved thousands of other children from debilitating injuries.

The debate that led to the withdrawal of the hazardous occupations orders was characterized by high levels of misinformation and exaggeration. The rules posed no threat to the family farm. They specifically exempted the sons and daughters of farm owners working on their parents’ farms. The withdrawn rules merely represented common sense safety protections similar to those enacted by (DOL) to protect children working in other industries.

We urge members of the House to vote against H.R.… Read the rest