Estimates by the Association of Farmworker Opportunity programs, based on figures gathered by the Department of Labor, suggest that there are approximately 500,000 child farmworkers in the United States. Many of these children start working as young as age 8, and 72-hour work weeks (more than 10 hours per day) are not uncommon.
Agricultural work is demanding and dangerous. Children are regularly exposed to pesticides, greatly increasing their risk for cancer. The Environmental Protection Agency has concluded that children are three times more susceptible to the pesticides' carcinogenic effects than are adults. Environmental conditions (particularly extreme heat) and dangerous farming tools are even more immediate threats. A report by the Government Accountability Office suggests that 100,000 child farmworkers are injured on the job every year and that children account for 20 percent of farming fatalities.
And yet, these abuses are, for the most part, legal under current U.S. law. The United States' Fair Labor Standards Act (1938) prohibits those under the age of 14 from working in most industries, restricts hours to no more than three on a school day until 16, and prohibits hazardous work until 18 for most industries. However, these regulations do not apply to agricultural labor because of outdated exemptions based upon an agrarian society largely left to the past. Today’s farmworker children are largely migrant workers who deserve the same protection as other youth working in less dangerous occupations.
Visit In Our Own Backyard, the AFT's Web site on the hidden problem of child farmworkers in America, to learn more.