Press Releases

Congresswoman Roybal-Allard Introduces Legislation to Protect Child Farmworkers

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Washington, June 19, 2001 | comments

Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard, along with the members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, today introduced the Children's Act for Responsible Employment (CARE). This bill will address abusive and exploitive child labor practices in the United States.

It is estimated that 800,000 children, as young as 12 years old, work in fields harvesting crops across America. Current federal law allows child farm workers to work in corporate agriculture at a younger age, for much longer hours, and under more hazardous conditions than those working in non-agricultural jobs.

"Mention abusive child labor, and many people conjure up images of children in the far-off corners of the world being subjected to long hours and hazardous working conditions," said Congresswoman Roybal-Allard. "What many Americans don't realize is that our own labor laws exclude child agricultural workers from restrictions that protect children who work in other occupations. We must end this horrible double standard."

Young farm workers routinely carry heavy loads, climb ladders and handle hazardous machinery, which can result in severe physical injuries. Working in fields with pesticides that can cause blood disorders, abnormalities in liver and kidney function, and even cancer further endangers them.

In addition to the health hazards, child farm workers face severe educational barriers. A report by Human Rights Watch identified that almost half of the children working in commercial agriculture never graduate from high school, due to the strain of working excessive hours, often in sweltering heat.

The CARE bill will address many of these problems by: bringing the age and work hour standards for children working in agriculture up to the standards set for all other forms of child labor; strengthening provisions for pesticide exposure to take into account additional risks posed to children; establishing a private right of action to hold employers liable for lost wages and medical expenses for children who suffer illness or are injured on the job; and creating a school drop out prevention program to provide the support child farm workers need to complete their schooling.

Because an estimated 85% of all farm workers are of Latino descent, the child labor issue is of special concern to members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. In fact, passage of the CARE bill has been named as a top priority for the CHC.

"In light of the fact that the majority of our nation's farm workers are Latino, the loopholes in our nation's current child labor laws result in a form of de facto discrimination. It is time that we give back dignity and value to the children who work to provide food for our nation's tables," concluded Congresswoman Roybal-Allard.

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