Child labor advocates are building momentum for the Children’s Act for Responsible Employment (CARE), legislation that aims to protect the sons and daughters of migrant and seasonal farmworkers.
Often the sons and daughters of impoverished migrant and seasonal farmworkers, the children, who work mostly as hand harvesters of fruit and vegetables, pay a heavy price for their work. In addition to suffering health consequences from exposure to pesticides and dangerous farm machinery, these farmworker youth experience drop-out rates that are truly frightening: More than half of these kids do not graduate from high school! The work is often exhausting. Long hours in the hot sun after getting up at 3 or 4 a.m. are combined with constant bending over. Is it ethical to allow these kids to suffer so much so that we can enjoy lower-cost fruits and vegetables? Why should these children work under different protections than other children? It’s well known that child labor reduces wages for adult workers. Wouldn’t it be better to restrict this work to adults and pay them a living wage?
On Capitol Hill and across the country, child labor advocates are building momentum for the Children’s Act for Responsible Employment (CARE), legislation that aims to protect the sons and daughters of migrant and seasonal farmworkers. Support for CARE, which is a priority of the NCL and our Child Labor Coalition (CLC), has grown rapidly in recent months. In late 2009, the number of members of Congress who have agreed to be co-sponsors of the legislation quadrupled. The legislation is now endorsed by 64 members of Congress as well as 30 national groups!
CARE would fix exemptions in U.S. child labor law—dating back to 1939 and the enactment of the Fair Labor Standards Act—that allow large numbers of kids to work for wages in U.S. agriculture at ages 12 and 13. Our belief is that although it’s okay for kids to work on their parents’ farms, children working for wages in agriculture should be subject to the same child labor laws as all other working children in the United States. Agriculture is consistently ranked by the U.S. government as one of the most dangerous workplaces. Does it make sense to allow young children to work in an industry known to be dangerous?