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Posts Tagged ‘child labor’

Trump’s pick for Education Secretary worked with an organization advocating child labor

Friday, January 13th, 2017

Donald Trump’s selection for Secretary of Education, billionaire voucher advocate Betsy DeVos, has made her imprint on policy through large donations to extremist conservative groups, including the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty.

In addition to being a donor, DeVos has served on Acton’s Board of Directors for 10 years. The Institute is a non-profit research organization “dedicated to the study of free-market economics informed by religious faith and moral absolutes.”

 In a recent blog post, an Acton Institute writer and project coordinator showed his dedication to something else: child labor.

The post’s author, Joseph Sunde, argues that work is a “gift” that we are denying American children. After all, Sunde concludes, the child laborers of America’s past were “actively building enterprises and cities” and “using their gifts to serve their communities.”

Some especially disturbing highlights from Sunde’s piece:

In our policy and governing institutions, what if we put power back in the hands of parents and kids, dismantling the range of excessive legal restrictions, minimum wage fixings, and regulations that lead our children to work less and work later?

Let us not just teach our children to play hard and study well, shuffling them through a long line of hobbies and electives and educational activities. A long day’s work and a load of sweat have plenty to teach as well.

The piece was originally titled “Bring Back Child Labor: Work is a Gift Our Kids Can Handle,” but Sunde removed “Bring Back Child Labor” after receiving public criticism. When the Huffington Post wrote about Sunde’s piece in November, the Trump transition team did not answer their request for a comment.

Long hours of regular work can harm children’s social and emotional development. According to the Child Labor Public Education Project, adolescents who work more than 20 hours per week have reported more problem behaviors, such as aggression, misconduct, and substance use. These students also report more sleep deprivation, and are more likely to drop out of school and complete fewer months of higher education.

It should come as no surprise that the Acton Institute appears on the DeVos philanthropic roster. Over the years, Dick and Betsy DeVos have funded a host of conservative, religious causes, including opposition same-sex marriage laws in several states and groups that push “conversion therapy.” What’s more, the entire DeVos family, including Amway co-founder Richard DeVos Sr., has given more than $17 million to conservative political candidates and political committees since 1989. More than half of that giving—nearly $10 million—occurred within the last two years. The DeVos name regularly appears on lists of attendees at donor summits hosted by Charles and David Koch.

There’s no doubt that Betsy DeVos has personally funded several groups that push an aggressive anti-public education agenda, as well. DeVos is a staunch believer in vouchers, which allow families to send their child to private (often religious) schools using government funding. When referring to the role that she and her husband play in education, DeVos has proclaimed, “our desire is to confront the culture in ways that will continue to advance God’s Kingdom.”

She has yet to say publicly whether children work in the Kingdom.

This blog originally appeared in ThinkProgress.org on January 12, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

Annette Konoske-Graf is a Policy Analyst with the K-12 Education team at the Center for American Progress.

Got a T-Shirt? Chances Are Child Labor Was Involved

Tuesday, December 9th, 2014
Credit: Joe Kekeris

Credit: Joe Kekeris

Cotton production involves the most child labor and forced labor in the world, according to the 2014 “List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor” by the U.S. Labor Department’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs.

Overall, 126 goods are produced annually by child labor and 55 goods produced through forced labor. Most of the goods, like cotton, are found in common items like T-shirts or are among popular foods, such as melons and rice.

The sixth annual report, released this week, added 11 goods produced with children’s labor: garments from Bangladesh; cotton and sugarcane from India; vanilla from Madagascar; fish from Kenya and Yemen; alcoholic beverages, meat, textiles and timber from Cambodia; and palm oil from Malaysia. Electronics from Malaysia made the list for being produced with forced labor.

Uzbekistan, listed among countries using forced labor, including children, for cotton production, routinely requires teachers to leave classrooms and work in the country’s annual cotton harvest, according to a report the Uzbek-German Forum issued last month.

The lengthy list of goods produced with child labor and forced labor includes garments, fish, coffee, shrimp and other shellfish, tea, corn, tobacco and peanuts.

This blog originally appeared in AFL-CIO.com on December 4, 2014. Reprinted with permission. http://www.aflcio.org/Blog/Global-Action/Got-a-T-Shirt-Chances-Are-Child-Labor-Was-Involved

About Tula Connell: I got my first union card while I worked my way through college as a banquet bartender for the Pfister Hotel in Milwaukee (we were represented by a hotel and restaurant local union—the names of the national unions were different then than they are now). With a background in journalism—covering bull roping in Texas and school boards in Virginia—I started working in the labor movement in 1991. Beginning as a writer for SEIU (and OPEIU member), I now blog under the title of AFL-CIO managing editor.

 

Two Leading Labor Activists Receive Global Recognition for Work

Monday, October 13th, 2014

0ba2540[1]Activists’ hard work fighting for workers’ rights often goes unrecognized. This week, however, two leading labor activists received global recognition for their defense of vulnerable workers and innovative organizing and advocacy campaigns. The AFL-CIO applauds our long-standing partners Kailash Satyarthi and Alejandra Ancheita.

Kailash Satyarthi won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work to eradicate child labor and forced labor. In 1998, Satyarthi created the Global March Against Child Labor, a coalition of unions and child rights organizations from around the world, to work toward elimination of child labor. Global March members and partners are now in more than 140 countries. See Solidarity Center post below:

Kailash Satyarthi, Solidarity Center Ally, Wins Nobel

Labor and human rights activist and longtime Solidarity Center ally Kailash Satyarthi has won the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize, the Nobel committee announced this morning. He shares the prestigious award with Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani girl who survived a brutal 2012 Taliban attack for her stance on girls’ education.

As a grassroots activist, Satyarthi has led the rescue of more than 78,500 child laborers and survived numerous attempts on his life as a result. As a PBS profile describes Satyarthi’s work: “His original idea was daring and dangerous. He decided to mount raids on factories—factories frequently manned by armed guards—where children and often entire families were held captive as bonded workers.”

Solidarity Center Asia Regional Director Tim Ryan said, “Kailash’s lifetime commitment to the cause of eradicating child labor is an inspiration to every human rights defender around the world to promote the rights of the most vulnerable, the most economically exploited young workers, and the paramount importance of finding ways to secure basic education for all children around the world.”

Satyarthi’s decades of work to end exploitive child labor has encompassed advocacy for decent work and working conditions for adults, including domestic workers, because impoverished families must often make the difficult choice of sending their children to work for the sake of family survival.

“Child labor is a largely neglected, ignored, denied aspect of human rights,” Satyarthi told the Solidarity Center in a recent interview. “This is crime against humanity and is unacceptable in any civilized society.”

Alejandra Ancheita, a Mexican human rights lawyer and executive director of the human rights organization ProDESC, received the prestigious Martin Ennals Award. Ancheita and ProDESC have fought for 15 years to protect land and labor rights of indigenous groups and Mexican workers from transnational mining and energy companies. ProDESC has collaborated closely with Los Mineros and United Steelworkers on organizing campaigns at Excellon in Durango and Goldcorp in Guerrero, and has also worked with the AFL-CIO and Solidarity Center on the defense of migrant workers’ human rights.

This blog originally appeared n AFL-CIO.org on October 10,2014. Reprinted with permission. http://www.aflcio.org/Blog/Global-Action/Two-Leading-Labor-Activists-Receive-Global-Recognition-for-Work

 

Financing Forced Labor in the Cotton Fields of Uzbekistan

Friday, October 4th, 2013

To most families in the United States, early September means back to school and heading to the football or soccer fields. To Uzbekistan’s families, September means the government forces many adults and children into the fields to pick cotton. Since this year’s harvest began, three young people have died. The youngest was a six-year-old boy, Amirbek Rachmatow, who suffocated under a pile of cotton on Sept. 15.

Under a Soviet-style command economy, the government of Uzbekistan orders farmers to plant the cash crop, pays them below-market prices for it and forces students, teachers and workers from both the public and private sector into the fields to pick the cotton. Those who refuse face repression, ranging from beatings, expulsion from school, loss of employment or access to public services to increased taxes. According to a June 2013 report of the U.S. Embassy there, “The Government of Uzbekistan remains one of only a handful of governments around the world that subjects its citizens to forced labor through implementation of state policy.” Recognizing this fact, the United States downgraded Uzbekistan this June to the lowest classification for countries’ efforts to eliminate the modern forms of slavery known as trafficking in persons.

In all too many parts of the global economy, workers’ rights violations are accepted as “business as usual.” In this part of this particular supply chain, however, labor unions like those of the AFL-CIO, human rights groups and some business organizations and socially responsible investors that participate in The Cotton Campaign have together argued that Uzbekistan’s way of doing business is unacceptable. The campaign has brought pressure on Uzbekistan by working with some major corporations in this supply chain and through some national governments to stop forced labor in the Uzbek cotton Industry. For example, the U.S. Department of Labor released its most recent critical evaluation of child labor in the cotton fields on Sept. 30, 2013. At the International Labor Organization (ILO), both worker and employer representatives have made the case a priority in annual hearings on the world’s worst workers’ rights violations since 2010, finally securing entry for ILO experts to monitor this year’s harvest.

However, recent missteps by the World Bank and Asian Development Bank show that international financial organizations remain slow to defend the most fundamental human rights for workers, citizens and children. Over the past five years, the World Bank has regularly and indiscriminately financed agricultural development projects in Uzbekistan, failing to ensure that funds do not contribute to the cotton industry that depends heavily on forced labor. During the very same weeks this fall, when more than a million children and adults, so many in Uzbekistan, were forced into the cotton fields and three young people died, the Asian Development Bank approved a loan to the government of Uzbekistan for irrigation systems that will benefit the cotton production that is underpinned by government-orchestrated forced labor. Among others in the coalition, Human Rights Watch and civil society groups from Uzbekistan have worked to press these development banks to play a positive role in economic development in Uzbekistan rather than facilitate forced labor and child labor.

The United States and other countries finance these institutions and have a vote on their governing bodies. They should use that vote in the future to demand that Uzbekistan improve its labor rights and human rights practices before receiving financing. In addition, member countries of the ILO must insist that reporting produced by the ILO monitors reflect the harsh reality of the harvest as much as possible.

This article was originally printed on AFL-CIO on October 3, 2013.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author:  Brian Finnegan is a Global Worker Rights coordinator for the AFL-CIO.

List of Shame: Goods Made with Forced, Child Labor

Thursday, April 5th, 2012

The U.S. Department of Labor has added three products to the list of good produced by forced labor, child labor or both. The list now includes 133 products from 71 countries, ranging from bamboo in Burma to zinc in Bolivia. Added to the list yesterday are bricks in Afghanistan and cassiterite and coltan in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

See the full list published in 2011 here and get the background on the new additions here.

According to the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center, more than 200 million children, some as young as five years old are part of the global workforce. In factories and in fields, children work up to 15 hours a day, seven days a week. Matches, rugs, soccer balls, leather goods, paper cups, toys, shoes, fireworks—all of these products are made by tiny hands. The center reports:

Child labor is one of the worst forms of exploitation. Child workers are deprived of schooling, forced to work in dangerous situations, beaten and sexually abused, and crippled by work-related illnesses and injuries. Children are sold or indentured to employers who pay impoverished families for the use of their children. An ensuing cycle of poverty pushes adults from their jobs and drives down wages worldwide.

Although most countries have laws against child labor, and it is banned by officially recognized conventions of the United Nations and the International Labor Organization, child labor exists everywhere in the world. Child labor is most common in countries where there are no unions and where other worker rights violations, such as pay inequity, discrimination and lack of health and safety measures, are widespread.

The Solidarity Center and partner organizations push for governments to curb child labor so children can go to school rather than to jobs and their parents can earn decent wages so their children don’t have to work.

This blog originally appeared in AFL-CIO Now on April 4, 2012.

About the Author: Donna Jablonski “I’m the AFL-CIO’s deputy director of public affairs for publications, Web and broadcast. Prior to joining the AFL-CIO in 1997, I served as publications director at the nonprofit Children’s Defense Fund for 12 years. I began my career as a newspaper reporter in Southwest Florida, and since have written, edited and managed production of advocacy materials— including newsletters, books, brochures, booklets, fliers, calendars, websites, posters and direct response mail and e-mail—to support economic and social justice campaigns. In June 2001, I received a B.A. in Labor Studies from the National Labor College. Most important: I’m the very proud mom of a spectacular daughter.”

Citing ‘Tradition,’ Big Ag Fights Reforms for Child Farmworkers

Thursday, March 29th, 2012

Michelle ChenAdvocates push for stronger protections during National Farmworker Awareness Week

“[When I was 12] they gave me my first knife. Week after week I was cutting myself. Every week I had a new scar. My hands have a lot of stories.”

–17-year-old boy who started working at age 11 in Michigan (Human Rights Watch)

America’s farm workers have always had it tough, toiling for endless hours in the fields under brutal conditions. But those workers do benefit from a unique income subsidy in the country’s industrial farming system: children.

In every region of the country, bountiful harvests are regularly gathered by the tender hands of child poverty: several hundred thousand kids work on farms, typically to help their families survive. Those children who deliver crisp peppers and sweet grapes to the mouths of other kids every day represent the devastating social toll of the dysfunctional food industry.

The Child Labor Coalition, which advocates for the rights of exploited children around the world, documents a cornupcopia of abuses in the backyard of a global superpower:

  • More children die in agriculture than in any other industry.
  • According to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), between 1995 and 2002, an estimated 907 youth died on American farms—that’s well over 100 preventable deaths of youth per year.
  • In 2011, 12 of the 16 children under the age of 16 who suffered fatal occupational injuries worked in crop production, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • When you include older children, more than half of all workers under age 18 who died from work-related injuries worked in crop production.

Advocates have for months been pressing the Labor Department to finalize a rule change that would help shield child farm workers from some of the most severe occupational hazards, such as handling pesticides and dangerous farm equipment, and would beef up protections for workers under age 16 (currently, children as young as 12 can legally work on farms, thanks to a loophole in federal labor law, and many younger ones work illegally).

The reforms would largely impact youth in the migrant communities that fuel the agricultural labor force, filled with poor and Latino workers who are extremely vulnerable to abuse.

Under the banner of National Farmworker Awareness Week (March 25-31, consumer and labor groups are working to educate communities about egregious conditions on farms. Now that organizations like the Florida-based Coalition of Immokalee Workers have begun to rattle the food industry with colorful worker- and consumer-driven campaigns, Washington should be ripe for long-overdue reforms to curb the worst forms of child labor.

But common decency has again been overshadowed by a well-oiled campaign by the agricultural industry lobby, which has pushed to block the rule changes by claiming that child labor reflects good old American values.

The “Preserving America’s Family Farms Act,” proposed by Rep. Tom Latham of Iowa, targets the pending reforms as a threat to a time-honored “tradition” of child farm labor. Evoking an imaginary pastoral ideal of the American homestead, the bill argues that the strengthening child labor protections would “adversely impact the long standing tradition of youth working on farms to gain valuable skills and lessons on hard work, character, and leadership” and would hurt their opportunities to “gain experiential learning and hands-on skills.”

Apparently, a great way to build kids’ character is pushing them into backbreaking, dangerous labor—rather than going to school or otherwise developing themselves in a way that’s less profitable for agribusiness. You might wonder how many of the bill’s sponsors regularly send their children to pick produce all day to cultivate “leadership” skills.

The saddest aspect of this political debate around farm labor is that the most systemic abuses would not be stopped by just tightening child regulations—not even by enacting the stronger restrictions on child labor that lawmakers have previously proposed in the Children’s Act for Responsible Employment. Whatever the law says, the marginalization of the farm workforce makes comprehensive enforcement nearly impossible.

Justin Feldman of Public Citizen told In These Times, “People are afraid because of immigration status, because of limited English ability, because of poverty and all sorts of issues. They’re afraid to come forward to authorities and report.”

In The Atlantic, restaurant industry veteran Helene York cites the underlying the economic dilemma: “Migrant families will lose their children’s wages and would be unable to move with available work. What’s needed is more income paid to laborers for the really hard work.”

Feldman noted, “one of the reasons that we have children and whole families working on farms is to subsidize the underpayment of the workers…. Looking at it holistically, we need to broaden immigrant rights and workers rights, and not much can change until that happens.”

Child labor is a symptom of a monstrous blight across the food system: consumers relish cheap prices and companies reap profits, and workers pay the human cost. Maybe that is an American value, of sorts.

This blog originally appeared in Working in These Times on March 28, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Michelle Chen is a contributing editor at In These Times. She is a regular contributor to the labor rights blog Working In These TimesColorlines.com, and Pacifica’s WBAI. Her work has also appeared in The Nation, Alternet, Ms. Magazine, Newsday, and her old zine, cain. Follow her on Twitter at @meeshellchen or reach her at michellechen@ inthesetimes.com.

South Africa’s World Cup Brims with Broken Promises

Friday, June 11th, 2010

Michelle ChenSouth Africa is the center of world this week, kicking off the first-ever World Cup Games on the African continent. But as the cameras pan across green fields and lavish festivities, labor activists are keeping their eye on the ball.

According to a report on soccer ball manufacturing from the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF), more than a decade since the sporting goods industry was scandalized over rampant child labor abuses, the exploitation continues. In Pakistan, India, China and Thailand, ILRF says, “precarious labor, low wages, poor working conditions and violations of freedom of association and collective bargaining rights are found in the value chain of hand-stitched soccer balls.”

As degraded child workers in Asia supply the games played by other youth around the world, FIFA promotes a platform of “corporate social responsibility.” Since the late 1990s, following international condemnation of labor abuses in Pakistan, FIFA has established a Social Responsibility code, “pledged its commitment to fight child labour and has been supporting the International Labour Organization (ILO) and its International Programme for the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC) in its efforts towards eradicating child labour from the soccer ball industry in Pakistan.”

Additionally, FIFA now plans to develop twenty “Football for Hope Centres to promote public health, education and football in disadvantaged communities across Africa,” based on missions such as rehabilitating children with disabilities and promoting the socioeconomic advancement of women.

But the ILRF report suggests that the glossy charity projects are overshadowed by the failure of the industry to live up to the principles of the 1997 Atlanta Agreement, including both abolishing child labor and fostering rehabilitation and education in manufacturing communities.

In India, soccer balls are at the center of a deeply entrenched labor hierarchy: “Half of India’s stitchers live below the poverty line, and 90% of these households are part of the ‘untouchables’ caste…. Under such conditions, families have no choice but to make their children work.”

The ball isn’t the only symbol of oppression at play at the games; the lavish stadiums sit astride signs of racial and economic inequalities that have exploded in recent years. According to Khadija Sharife of the South Africa-based Center for Civil Soviety, “estimated expenditure for new stadiums totalled US$1,346.9 billion,” and FIFA “has already cashed in” on the spending spree spawned by aggressive overdevelopment leading up to the games. Sharife argues, “Fifa’s Cup erodes rather than aids SA’s political economy,” and the country will see little long-term benefit, as job creation and tourism have fallen short of rosy expectations.

Critics in South Africa even doubt the potential to boost national pride, as the games mainly cater to affluent foreigners and price out a huge portion of Africans. Columnist Andile Mngxitama told the UK Independent:

The World Cup is a colonial playground for the rich and for a few wannabes in the so-called South African elite… Whereas in the past we were conquered, the South African government has simply invited the colonisers this time.

The ANC government’s branding attempt in fact started showing cracks long before the kickoff. In a 2008 issue of Against the Current, Sam Ross reported:

In September 2007, construction workers building the new Green Point stadium in Cape Town demanded increased compensation for travel costs to the worksite. After two strikes in a month, 1,000 workers were locked out of the stadium, which will host the World Cup Semi-finals.

In early October 2007… FIFA Organizing Committee’s Chief Competitions Officer Dennis Mumble claimed the committee was “very happy with the progress being made and believe more than ever that we are on track to host an extremely successful 2010 World Cup.” He made no mention of labor disputes or of the fact more than one million South African workers went on strike between June and October.

Since then, strikes have popped up regularly, including a major transport union strike in May. Meanwhile, class strife has swelled with the threat of displacement. A ban on street vendors has stoked public frustration. And the longstanding Black township Joe Slovo in the Western Cape, Socialist Worker reports that some 20,000 people have resisted the authorities’ attempts to evict them:

Zodwa Nsibande is the youth league secretary of Abahlali base Mjondolo, a movement of shack dwellers set up to protect and advocate for people living in shacks.

“People are being forced from their homes and treated like animals,” she told Socialist Worker. “We live under constant threat. People are scared to move because they know they can’t come back – they will have built something on the land.”…

In South Africa the police have also been instructed to clear the streets of homeless people for the World Cup.

Isaac Lewis, who is homeless, has been arrested six times in the past month for loitering.

“Police harassment is increasing,” he says. “They want to make a good impression for the foreigners coming. We are like insects to them – like flies.”

And so South Africa joins a long tradition of mass sporting events causing mass displacement. A study by the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions, published in 2007 ahead of the Beijing Olympics, found that “The Olympic Games have displaced more than two million people in the last 20 years, disproportionately affecting minorities such as the homeless, the poor, Roma and African-Americans.”

It’s inevitable, perhaps, that in a sporting event that draws together people of all classes, creeds and colors, shameful paradoxes will emerge: the interplay between child workers in Pakistan and sports industry marketing agendas; the dissonance between the overbuilt stadiums and the poverty of the workers who poured their sweat into the concrete.

In such a starkly divided polity, Udesh Pillay, co-editor of Development and Dreams: The urban legacy of the 2010 Football World Cup, told the AP that the Cup “now is the emotional glue that holds the country together.”

After the last match is played, South Africans will seek another goal to bind the fractured nation together. That pursuit, symbolically tied to the fate of the entire Global South, should compel South Africa to return to the suspended vision of equity that defeated apartheid, but today remains an unfinished triumph.

This article was originally posted in Working In These Times.

About the Author: Michelle Chen’s work has appeared in AirAmerica, Extra!, Colorlines and Alternet, along with her self-published zine, cain. She is a regular contributor to In These Times’ workers’ rights blog, Working In These Times, and is a member of the In These Times Board of Editors. She also blogs at Racewire.org. She can be reached at michellechen@inthesetimes.com

Working Away Their Childhoods: Young Farmworkers Robbed of Rights

Friday, May 7th, 2010

As kids around the country look forward to the start of summer break, it’s easy to forget that their mid-year vacation is actually curious relic of an earlier time, when children took time off to help out on the farm. Still, even in the post-industrial age, today’s farm sector continues to put kids to work, perpetuating one of the country’s last bastions of child labor.

It makes sense to employers: Kids make obedient field hands, their little fingers nimble enough to cull all those tiny berries with maximum efficiency. Moreover, the vast migrant labor force—largely Latino, impoverished and disenfranchised—is ripe for exploitation. But there’s a cost of doing this business, according to a new report from Human Rights Watch (HRW): disrupted schooling, safety hazards, and the threat of sexual assault, all factor into the opportunity cost of a lost childhood. (See video below.)

Photo courtesy Human Rights Watch

Photo courtesy Human Rights Watch

The extensive investigation reveals that child labor isn’t limited to Dickensian sweatshops in the “third world.” The federal labor laws that govern child farmworkers, moreover, don’t recognize that the agricultural sector has moved away from bucolic fields and toward modern-day plantation slavery.

Current U.S. regulations allow children as young as 12 to work on farms, and small farms have no minimum age if the child has parental permission. Toiling alongside their parents under brutal conditions, children are underpaid and exposed to injury and pesticide contamination. Young girls are “exceptionally vulnerable to sexual abuse.” For many, education and play time are impossible luxuries.

How many children work in U.S. fields each year? Due to the migratory and transient nature of the work, it’s a difficult question to answer, and data isn’t fresh; the HRW report notes that farmers in 2006 reported directly hiring 211,588 children under 18, and that nearly half a million children worked on their family’s farm that year. The total number toiling is likely much higher—the government estimates that 9 percent of all farmworkers hired in 2006 were under 18.

Child farm labor clusters in California, Florida, North Carolina, Texas, Oregon, and Washington State, though HRW stresses, “Virtually no state is without child labor in agriculture, and certainly no state fails to benefit from children’s farmwork, as the produce that is harvested and packed by youngsters’ hands may travel thousands of miles to grocery store shelves.” Even when subsidized by children’s wages, annual family incomes still hovered in the poverty range, “between $15,000 and $17,499″ on average, according to 2005-2006 data.

Though the Obama administration has vowed to tighten enforcement, employers can easily flout the already weak labor rules. Some children start working at six or seven, getting a head start on the lifetime of misery to which their parents are often condemned:

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.

The impacts on children’s development are difficult to grasp.  Some of the youth interviewed reported regularly working from dawn till dusk, returning home utterly exhausted. But even then, said one girl, “I hated to sleep because sometimes all you dreamed of was working, thinking, ‘I need to be working.’” For a large portion of these workers, constant migration from site to site could lead to further social and emotional destabilization.

In an interview with HRW, a Michigan teen recalls, “[When I was 12] they gave me my first knife. Week after week I was cutting myself. Every week I had a new scar. My hands have a lot of stories.”

A mother reflected, “When you hear the children talk, you feel bad because you’ve taken a whole childhood away and you don’t realize it because you’re thinking about trying to make payments.”

About one-third of U.S.-born farmworkers (i.e. citizens) have dropped out of school—about four times the overall national rate—in large part because young people simply can’t complete their education as families shift from site to site. Federal support for migrant children’s education has reached only about half of the eligible population.

Stories like these abound, HRW reports, but the Department of Labor in 2009 “found only 36 cases of child labor violations involving 109 children in agriculture, constituting only 4 percent of all child labor cases that year. This number is not only astonishingly low, but also reflects a dramatic decline in overall enforcement of child labor laws from 2001.”

A proposed bill in Congress, the Children’s Act for Responsible Employment,would tighten regulations on child farm work and increase penalties for violations.

Yet beneath the day-to-day abuses these youth experience lies the economic structure of the food system, based on a byzantine regime of farm labor programs, an ample supply of migrants desperate for work, and the American consumer’s appetite for low prices at the checkout counter.

When viewed in light of the protests surrounding Arizona’s anti-immigrant law, these children represent all the reasons why criminalizing immigrants will do nothing to solve the crisis.

Many are U.S. citizens; many of their parents actually entered the country legally. Yet workers of all immigrant statuses are relegated to an employment system akin to indentured servitude. Child labor is the product of an immigration system that reduces families to a disposable workforce. For kids unable to contemplate a better life, their rights are the first to be thrown away.

*This post originally appeared in Working In These Times on May 7, 2010. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Michelle Chen’s work has appeared in Extra!, Legal Affairs, City Limits and Alternet, along with her self-published zine, cain. She also blogs at Racewire.org

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