Saturday, May 08, 2010

Danger: Children legally at work in American agriculture

“The United States is a developing country when it comes to child farmworkers,” says Zama Coursen-Neff, deputy director of the Children’s Rights Division of Human Rights Watch.

Boys and girls as young as 12 legally work for hire on U.S. farms for 10 or more hours a day, five to seven days a week, according to a new Human Rights Watch study, which Coursen-Neff co-authored.

Human Rights Watch has called upon Congress to amend the Fair Labor Standards Act to end discrimination against child farmworkers. In other occupations, the law prohibits the employment of children under 14, and limits children under 16 to three hours of work a day when school is in session.

Although agriculture is the most dangerous work open to children in the United States, federal law allows 16 and 17-year-olds to work under hazardous conditions in agriculture; in all other occupations the minimum age for hazardous work is 18.

In September last year Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard of California introduced Children’s Act for Responsible Employment. It has gained more than 60 co-sponsored, as well as the endorsement of the AFL-CIO and other organizations, but remains bogged down in Congress.

The May 5 Human Rights Watch report sparked an unusual amount of media interest. The AP story on it was picked up by 189 outlets within two days.

On May 10 to ll the United States joins 80 other countries at a global child labor conference hosted by the Dutch government in the Hague. A goal of the conference is to improve enforcement of the ILO Worst Forms of Child Labor convention, which the U.S. government sponsored and ratified.

Will the Obama administration take on the corporate agriculture lobby to end a glaring contradiction in U.S. policy?"
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