Approximately 400,000 children are employed in agriculture in the United States. Loopholes in U.S. child labor law do not protect the children of migrant and seasonal farmworkers the same as children that work in other industries.

The current law allows these children to work in agriculture at very young ages. Large numbers of 12- and 13-year-olds toil long hours in the fields under dangerous conditions that include exposure to pesticides and other farm hazards. Children younger than 12 have also been found working in America’s fields. This child labor contributes to a graduation rate that researchers have called “the lowest in public education”—and intensifies a cycle of poverty that traps farmworker families.

Specifically, we favor:

  • Closing the 70-year-old Fair Labor Standards Act loopholes that allow children to work in agriculture under the age of 14;
  • Eliminating the exclusions that allow children under 18 in agriculture to perform tasks determined by the Department of Labor and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health to be extremely dangerous.

In May 2010 Human Rights Watch released a report “Fields of Peril: Child Labor in US Agriculture.” The report found, among other conditions, child farmworkers as young as 12 years old often work for hire for 10 or more hours a day, five to seven days a week. Some start working part-time at age 6 or 7. Children, like many adult farmworkers, typically earn far less than minimum wage, and their pay is often further cut because employers underreport hours and force them to spend their own money on tools, gloves, and drinking water that their employers should provide by law. Read more and see photos and videos on Human Rights Watch’s website.

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