Hundreds of thousands of children are foregoing their childhoods and educations to work in dangerous conditions on US farms, a rights organisation said in a new report. Children as young as 12 often work 10 or more hours a day with sharp tools, heavy machinery, and dangerous pesticides, and die at 4 times the rate of children working in other jobs, according to the report. Farm worker children also drop out of school in alarming numbers.
Human Rights Watch is calling for a change to US law that allows children under 18 to work in agriculture at far younger ages, for far longer hours, and in far more hazardous conditions than in any other industry. Children working on farms risked their safety, health, and education on commercial farms across the United States, found the report. Researchers interviewed 59 children under 18 who had worked on farms in 14 US states. "I really didn't have a childhood, and I don't want my own children to go through what I did,” a 17 year old boy told interviewers. “You're a kid only once. Once you get old you have to work," said the boy, who had been cutting Christmas trees, picking tomatoes, and working in other crops in North Carolina since he was 12.
An 18 year-old boy who had worked hoeing cotton in Texas since he was 8 told researchers: "Here there are a lot of chemicals in the field. . . .You can smell them. Recently the plane sprayed, sprayed the cotton. . . .I felt dizzy. I covered my face and kept working. No one told us to get out of the field." Some children start working part-time on farms as young as 6 or 7. Like many of the adults who work on farms, children usually earn far less than the minimum wage, and their employers often underreport hours and force them to buy their own tools, gloves, and drinking water. "The United States is a developing country when it comes to child farm workers," said Zama Coursen-Neff, who wrote the report. "Children who pick America's food should at least have the same protections as those who serve it."
The country’s current child labour law was worked out in the1930's when many more children worked on family farms, said Ms Coursen-Neff. But now with the use of heavy machinery, pesticides and more industrial techniques, those days are long gone. “It's time the US updated its antiquated child labour laws to give children who work for hire in agriculture the same protections as all other working children.”