Unfair child labor practices and infractions against the Labor Standards Act are not restricted to foreign lands. They are taking place right here on farms across the United States. Every year, underage children assume the work of men to help their families. While previous legislation had made some ages off-limits to labor, many agricultural parents were up in arms, claiming they needed their sons’ help to get the work done.
One 15-year-old riding a tractor lost his balance and was crushed under its wheels. An underage Amish boy died in a similar way. One group of Mennonites, including a 14 year-old, fell into a manure pit and died. There are countless stories of deaths that could have been prevented had the regulations been kept in place. Child labor is and alive and well in the U.S.
The legal working age is 16, but the Labor Department has issued a list of jobs considered hazardous to young people. The list has not been revisited since 1970, but it makes exceptions for agriculture. Young farmworkers are most at risk for fatalities suffered on the job. One children’s rights activist claims it’s the same as McDonald’s. Kids can run the cash register but are not permitted to work the deep fryer. Ironically, when the Labor Department issued its constraints, the Farm Bureau reacted so strongly, the regulations were removed. It has resulted in at least 16 deaths in the last year, and probably more, as they are hardly ever documented.
The labor department finds that farmers like to do things their way, and new regulations are a tough sell. It’s part of the agrarian culture, with a long history of being exempt from health and safety laws, fewer protections in child labor and deficient workman’s compensation. Even the parents whose children were killed eschew new regulations. The woman who lost her family in a manure pit does not have the right to complain about illegal behavior since she feels the children aren’t being treated unfairly. She claims the way they do things builds character and makes men out of children. Child Rights groups see things differently, calling young workers the most vulnerable in the American labor system. They are entitled to safe working conditions in which they do not risk their health, or lives.
truth-out.org, “Regulations Are Killed, and Kids Die” Mariya Strauss, Nov. 19, 2013