On the World Day Against Child Labor, countries across the globe stand up for the rights and well-being of young people. While the United States has taken steps to protect the health and safety of young people working in a host of industries, children working on farms are still excluded from these protections and are especially vulnerable to exploitation and human trafficking.
On Monday, Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA) and 12 of her fellow House members introduced the Children’s Act for Responsible Employment (CARE Act, H.R. 2886) to try and remedy this loophole. The CARE Act extends basic labor protections enjoyed by those under 18 in almost every other form of work to young people in agriculture.
As farms continue to hire hundreds of thousands of young people to work in hazardous conditions, this lack of basic protections puts a vulnerable population at even more risk for exploitation and child labor trafficking. Children working in agriculture are often forced to work long hours in extreme temperatures, handle dangerous tools and machinery, lack access to drinking water or toilets, and are repeatedly exposed to toxic pesticides and chemicals. These harsh working conditions can cause serious injuries and pose health hazards that can last the rest of their lives.
Passage of the CARE Act would raise the minimum age for agricultural work from 12 to 14 and would restrict children under the age of 16 from work that interferes with their studies or affects their health. The bill would also strengthen the protections against pesticide exposure currently faced by children, recognizing that young people’s developing bodies are especially vulnerable to neurological damage due from pesticide exposure. Finally, it would increase the civil and criminal penalties for employers who repeatedly or willfully violate child-labor laws.
As the nation’s largest network of human trafficking service providers, we know that prevention, through basic labor standards and protections, is essential to the fight against trafficking. The first step to combating child exploitation is making sure that vulnerable workers are protected against long hours and hazardous working conditions.
This year Congress will debate trafficking and its causes, discussing how to best serve victims and fight human trafficking. If we are serious about our desire to combat exploitation and trafficking, we must look at the root causes. Congress must enact legislation that will protect young people in all forms of labor and prevent further child labor abuses on US farms. We commend Rep. Roybal-Allard, who has been a champion of this issue for 16 dedicated years, on her commitment to protecting young people in farm labor, and hope Congress will follow suit in protecting the most vulnerable.