Food Circles Networking Project
Department of Rural Sociology
University of Missouri-Columbia
Columbia, MO 65211-1100
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On the web at: http://www.foodcircles.missouri.edu
From: Human Rights Watch [mailto:email@example.com]
Sent: Tuesday, June 20, 2000 10:43 AM
Subject: Abusive Child Labor Found in U.S. Agriculture
Abusive Child Labor Found in U.S. Agriculture
U.S. Law Discriminates Against Child Farmworkers
(New York, June 20, 2000) -- Hundreds of thousands of child farmworkers
are laboring under dangerous and grueling conditions in the United
States, Human Rights Watch charged in a report released today (available
online at: http://www.hrw.org/reports/2000/frmwrkr/ ) .
The international rights group found that child farmworkers often work
twelve- and fourteen-hour days, and risk pesticide poisoning, heat
illness, injuries and life-long disabilities. The vast majority of child
farmworkers are Latino.
The laws governing minors working in agriculture are much less stringent
than those for other sectors of the economy, Human Rights Watch said,
allowing children to work at younger ages, for longer hours, and under
more hazardous conditions than children in other jobs.
"Farm work is the most dangerous work open to children in this country,"
said Lois Whitman, Executive Director of the Children's Rights Division
of Human Rights Watch. "U.S. laws should be changed to protect the
health, safety, and education of all children."
The 1938 federal law governing this type of labor specifically exempts
farmworker youth from the minimum age and maximum hour requirements
protecting other children. At the state level, eighteen states have no
minimum age for farmwork, while in some other states the minimum age is
as low as nine or ten.
The report, "Fingers to the Bone: United States Failure to Protect Child
Farmworkers," focuses on children aged thirteen to sixteen. Some of
these young workers told Human Rights Watch that they work as many as
seventy or eighty hours a week. Often, their workdays begin before dawn.
Drawing on scores of interviews with child farmworkers and farmworker
advocates, "Fingers to the Bone" concludes that:
Juvenile farmworkers are routinely exposed to dangerous pesticides,
suffering rashes, headaches, dizziness, nausea and vomiting. Long-term
consequences of pesticide poisoning include cancer, brain damage, and
learning and memory problems.
Many young farmworkers are forced to work without access to toilet
facilities, handwashing facilities, and adequate drinking water, the
three most basic sanitation requirements. The lack of handwashing
facilities contributes to pesticide poisoning and bacterial infections,
while the lack of adequate drinking water can lead to dehydration and
heat illness. Children often work in fields where the temperature is
well above 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
Children working in agriculture suffer a high rate of injuries from
knives and heavy equipment. Child farmworkers account for eight percent
of all working minors, but suffer 40 percent of work-related fatalities
Long hours of work interfere with the education of children working in
the fields. Statistically, only 55 percent of farmworker children in
the United States finish high school. Of the dozens interviewed by
Human Rights Watch, nearly every one had dropped out of school for at
least one extended period of time.
Young farmworkers are often cheated from receiving their rightful wages,
and many earn far less than minimum wage. Some interviewed by Human
Rights Watch reported earnings as little as two dollars an hour.
Currently, the federal minimum wage is $5.15.
Human Rights Watch called on Congress to amend US labor law to end
discrimination against child farm workers. The law at issue is the Fair
Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which specifically exempts farmworker youth
from the minimum age and maximum hour requirements protecting other
children. In other occupations, the FLSA prohibits the employment of
children under fourteen, and limits children under sixteen to three
hours of work a day when school is in session. In addition, the FLSA
allows sixteen and seventeen-year olds to work under hazardous
conditions in agriculture; in all other occupations the minimum age for
hazardous work is eighteen.
"A twelve-year-old kid can work unlimited hours on a farm, but isn't
allowed to work in a fast-food restaurant," said Lee Tucker, a Human
Rights Watch consultant and author of the report. "There's no good
reason to have such a double standard."
Last year, the United States was one of the first countries to ratify a
new treaty on the worst forms of child labor. Congress recently denied
trade benefits to developing countries that don't comply with the new
treaty. But the United States itself is not in compliance, Human Rights
Human Rights Watch urged the Department of Labor to more vigorously
enforce violations of already-existing laws, including minimum wage
requirements, and the Environmental Protection Agency to better protect
children from pesticide exposure. The Occupational Safety and Health
Administration should expand enforcement of field sanitation
regulations, Human Rights Watch said, and all states should set or raise
the minimum age for agricultural work to at least fourteen.
Testimonies from "Fingers to the Bone" are available online at:
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