Where’s the Empathy for Disenfranchised Children?

Exploring the Dangers and Consequences Farm Children Face

By Maria Mares

It is time for the government to start putting the interest of people, especially disenfranchised children, in front of the interest of big businesses and their lobbies.

The government urgently needs to find ways to ensure that all children working in farms are working under fair and safe conditions.

While switching through channels, I stopped at an episode of Al Jazeera America’s Fault Lines series called “America’s Hidden Harvest,” intrigued by a girl named Anabella, a fourteen year old seventh grader who is one year behind in school and works with her mother on a farm.

Her mother talked about how Anabella had been in the farms with her since she was 40 days old.

It was noted that they work on a field sprayed with pesticides. When asked about them, she explained that she has often felt sick because of the pesticides, but continues picking onions anyway.

According to Human Rights Watch there are approximately 300,000 to 400,000 minors working in farms under very tough conditions on a daily basis.

But, it is hard to provide an accurate statistic for children working in farms as employers rarely keep records of underage workers in order to avoid possible government penalties.

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, the United States government created regulations relating to the employment of children.

The law set the minimum working age at fourteen, but does not apply to children working in agriculture, allowing children as young as ten to work in farms, with other exceptions that allow for even younger children to work on smaller farms.

Not only are children working in farms allowed to work at a younger age than other children, they are also allowed to take part in tasks that are considered hazardous.

Children are exposed to dangerous chemicals found in pesticides, tools such as circular saws, and harsh working conditions such as being under the sun for 72 hours a week.

According to the Labor Department, child farm laborers are subject to a workplace mortality rate roughly four times higher than that of children who work in other industries.

The problem with the existing regulations is not that children are working, but rather the detrimental effects that working has on their education.

Since farming requires workers to move wherever the harvest is, child workers are often forced to move often.

This mobility poses a challenge to these children’s education as they have to frequently change schools, which causes them to fall behind in their studies.

This fragmented education causes these children to lose interest in school and, out of frustration, drop out. Migrant children have a dropout rate four times greater than the national average.

Leaving school impairs their ability to pursue better jobs and only serves to facilitate the perpetuation of poverty among migrant workers in the farming industry.

By allowing this to continue happening, as a nation we are turning our backs on a large part of the U.S. population.

We are not even giving them a chance at achieving their dreams.

In 2011 the Obama administration attempted to create laws that would have prevented minors from performing hazardous work and would have created regulations regarding the age and hours of employment for child farm laborers.

The American Farm Bureau and other powerful lobbies quickly acted against this bill, arguing that it would have negative effects on family farms, and that it was a overstep of the government.

As a result when it was sent to a committee, it was quickly struck down. Laws that set a minimum working age and minimum wage along with time restrictions need to be created.

Children should be allowed to work, but only under conditions that are safe and guarantee a fulfilling education. These laws need to be enforced by the Labor Department. Employees who do not abide by these regulations must be held responsible.

Child laborers are not visible to most of us on a daily basis, but it does not mean that their lives are not important.

We as a nation need to ensure that all children have a fair opportunity to succeed.

Categories: Opinion

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