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Child Labor in America

The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 had outlawed child labor in America; however, individuals have managed to find their way around the law, effectively enslaving children, the vast majority of whom are migrant workers, within these laborious jobs. While the 1938 Act outlawed child labor in settings such as an office or a restaurant, the law left the prospect of employing child laborers on farms completely legal. In the United States, many child laborers still toil away on farms, being left vulnerable to heat exhaustion, heavy machinery and dehydration.

According to NBC, thousands of children, some as young as 8 years old, are being exploited, forced to endure grueling hours and equally grueling conditions on farms. These children work for little to no cost in order for the produce industry to put food on America’s table.

Oftentimes, these children are told by their employers to lie about their age in order to circumvent any probing questions. NBC chronicles the exploitation of Ralph, a 15-year-old laborer who works on a Central Valley migrant labor camp with dozens of other children as young as or even younger than he. When asked what farm labor is like, Ralph states, “We get tired and like we get kind of tired and our arms hurt… It is too hard to be in the fields.” Indeed, these children are forced to work the fields even when temperatures skyrocket to 106 degrees.

Furthermore, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) stated that up to 670 children had been killed while working during 1980 to 1989. Seventy percent of these deaths were initiated by violations of child safety laws. Additionally, a follow-up study by the NIOSH in 1992 reported that over 64,100 children were admitted to the emergency room due to injuries on the job.

As startling as these estimates may be, they under-report child labor-related death and injuries by 25 percent to 30 percent. It is difficult to pinpoint the precise rate of child labor in America since many exploitative employers do not report their mistreatment of children and many child laborers often fail to speak out due to fear.

Child labor remains an issue in America, a country that supposedly phased out the exploitation of children in the late 1930’s, largely as a result of a lack of effective legislation. According to Project Censored, the individuals who benefit the most from lack of legislation and awareness are the exploitative industries while young laborers remain perpetual victims.

Phoebe Pradhan

Sources: The Nation, NBC, Project Censored
Photo: Bored Panda