While an 8-year-old could not work in an office or fast-food restaurant, a 1938 law allows them to legally work in agriculture. These children are working a full day in the fields picking, trimming and cultivating fresh fruits and vegetables. They often work 9 to10 hours a day in 100-degree-plus heat.
United States labor law, which dates back to 1938, allows children 12 years old, and depending on the circumstances, even younger, to legally work in agriculture. [Click here to read the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938.] “Like seven years, since I was 8 years old until now,” one 15-year-old said, describing when he started in the fields. Another of the young workers said, “I was in 6th grade. I was 11.”
“Children can work at any age on a small farm with their parents’ permission. It’s absolutely legal for a small farmer to hire a 6-year-old to pick blueberries,” said Zama Coursen-Neff of Human Rights Watch. Coursen-Neff authored a 2010 report that found child labor prevalent in fields across the United States. “You have to realize that many children who are working in hazardous conditions in the United States are working absolutely legally because U.S. child labor law which is pretty good has a big gaping hole in it when it comes to agriculture,” Coursen-Neff said.
“Children are working in American fields at far younger ages for far longer hours and in far more hazardous conditions than all other working children in America,” Coursen-Neff said. “(Under current law) a child can work again for hire at age 12 on any size farm. And at age 14 they can work for hire even without their parents’ permission. A child of any age can work unlimited hours outside of school in agriculture even though in all other forms of work the number of hours that they can work is limited to make sure that they can get an education and to make sure that they’re not put at risk.”
“It is very difficult to be able to pin exactly how many children are out there because there is not a whole lot of data that is being collected by the government on this,” Flores Lopez said. “But from our best estimates that we have been able to get we know that there is anywhere from 400,000 children to up to as many as 500,000 kids.”
Those kids, picking everything from grapes to almonds, all said they are laboring so long and so hard out of pure economics. The reality is that their parents simply can’t make enough money working the fields without their children’s help.
Just this year, the United States Department of Labor tried to change the law and further restrict and even prohibit some children from working in fields. But…after critics lodged complaints, the Labor Department withdrew the proposed new rules in April. On July 24, the U.S. House of Representatives passed, by a voice vote, House Resolution 4157, a bill designed to prevent the Department of Labor from even attempting to change the labor law regarding children in agriculture in the near future. Proponents of the bill say the proposed Department of Labor rules would hurt family farms and 4-H clubs.
What most sides can agree on is that this issue is largely unknown. “I don’t think they (Americans) do (realize children are picking their food),” Aeillo said. “I think Americans are largely clueless about the labor in general that supplies their food. And whether it’s their age or their ethnicity or their legal status or any of the above I think Americans are in the dark about what’s going on.”
Yes, but children do NOT belong working in these fields, especially for that period of time. This is just not acceptable!!!!