By Emily Drakage, NC Regional Coordinator, Children in the Fields Campaign - Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs
This spring North Carolinians are enjoying their local farmers markets as they begin to overflow with a myriad of fresh fruits and vegetables planted and harvested here in the state. Joy can be found on the faces of folks as they purchase a rainbow of delectable and affordable produce. Springtime for migrant and seasonal farmworker children in North Carolina, carries an entirely different implication. Many of these children must labor 40+ hours a week in the fields to help their families get by. They are subjected to unsanitary, hazardous, and back-breaking labor conditions. It seems surreal for a state with an over-abundance of agricultural revenue to have child labor tangled up within it.
Meanwhile, agriculture continues to be the most dangerous industry for children to work in. In fact, three-quarters of the children under age 16 who died while working for wages in 2010 were killed while working on farms according to the Bureau of Labor statistics. The Department of Labor recently proposed safety updates to the rules governing child labor in agriculture—it would have been the first change in 41 years.
The updates were common sense changes to protect farmworker children from known dangers and would still have allowed children to perform any type of task on their parents’ farm, at any age. This is an exemption secured through the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, which is statutory and therefore cannot be changed by a federal agency. Members of Congress also introduced legislation in the House and Senate to block the implementation of the protections called, "Preserving America's Family Farm Act." Even after advocacy groups held a press conference with a panel of experts from the education, health and agriculture communities to dispel the misinformation surrounding the proposed rules, the Obama administration in the end conceded to the large and misguided outcry from the opposition.
Throughout the summer let us not forget the farmworker children who sacrifice their childhood, health, and wellbeing to bring us the fruits of their labor at what appears to be a “low cost.”
For more information, click here: http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/the-administration/225809-labor-department-abandons-child-farmworkers.