We witnessed a disturbing story aired by ABC News last week, regarding child labor. Four graduate students working as fellows with Carnegie Corporation, and ABC, observed children ages 5, 7, and 8 working alongside their parents on a Michigan blueberry farm. As a result of this report, some popular stores have severed their ties with this particular supplier of blueberries, pending further investigations of child labor.
Countries have minimum age requirements for child labor. The lowest exist in countries like Syria, Paraguay, or Bangladesh, where minimum age is 12. Many youngsters in developing countries begin work prior to reaching the minimum legal age. Most countries set minimum age at 15-16 years old; but in a few cases, the minimum age may be 14. The minimum age in the U.S. ranges from 15-16, and generally, one must have permission from parents to work prior to being 18 and being considered an adult. (Read on, for federal law regarding agricultural work.)
Child labor has been a going on for decades. It is a sad fact that families that live in poverty depend on the help of their children just to make a living. Many are migrant, seasonal workers. Our federal labor laws have been very lax in the past, according to some legal aid attorneys that work with migrant families. Federal law says that children ages 12-13 are allowed to have non-hazardous jobs if they work on the same farm with their parents and have parental consent. Many youngsters are on farms with other family members because the parents cannot afford childcare during the summer months. Many health hazards exist on farms, such as pesticides and chemicals.
One wonders if we shouldn’t be trying to see that our laws are enforced when it comes to child labor, as this is a problem throughout our country. Aren’t we all guilty of buying certain things that are made outside the U.S., because they are cheaper? Chances are that inexpensive item may have been made by some child. Probably the stores that boycotted this particular industry sell many items that are made by child labor.
Laws requiring children to attend school are essential, thereby giving them the opportunity to get decent work once they have completed their education. If they work on farms or elsewhere, it should be when they are out of school. We must keep our children learning skills and not perpetuating poverty. Foremost, we must keep those children safe!
One last thought: there’s so much unemployment in this country, why don’t some of the unemployed who are healthy and able to work take these seasonal, agricultural jobs?
There are many jobs out there that are waiting for someone to come along. It seems that many times there are certain tasks that no one wants to do, but it’s not the place of children to fill in the gaps.