Rep. Roybal-Allard Introduces CARE Act to Protect Child Farmworkers
Today, Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-40) led 12 of her fellow House members in reintroducing the Children’s Act for Responsible Employment (CARE) to ensure adequate protections for children working in American agriculture.
“Agriculture is the only industry in which children as young as 12 are allowed to labor with virtually no restrictions on the number of hours they work outside of the school day,” said Congresswoman Roybal-Allard. “That is why, since 2001, I have introduced the CARE Act, which ends this dangerous double standard. All of America’s children deserve to be protected equally under our laws, and no child should be discriminated against based on the work they do. The time has come for the United States of America to bring child labor laws in line with our American values, and give all of our children the fundamental protections they rightfully deserve.”
“The CARE Act is an important step in bringing up to moral par our child labor laws to protect one of the most vulnerable populations; child farmworkers,” said Congressman Raúl Grijalva (AZ-03), the longest-running cosponsor of the CARE Act. “It is appalling that in the 21st century, one of the largest industries in our country, agriculture, still allows children as young as twelve years old to work under hazardous conditions, pesticide exposure and with few legal protections. The CARE Act would ensure that standards and protections for children in agriculture are no less to those of other industries. I am proud to stand in support of this long overdue legislation.”
While retaining current exemptions for family farms, the CARE Act requires that teenagers be at least 16 years of age to work in agriculture and at least 18 years of age to perform particularly hazardous work. The bill retains an existing exemption that permits 14 and 15-year-olds to work in certain agriculture jobs, during limited shifts and outside of school hours.
“Children farmworkers work at far younger ages, for longer hours, and under more hazardous conditions than in any other industry,” said Jo Becker, Children’s Rights Advocacy Director of Human Rights Watch. “It’s time to end this double standard in US law and ensure they have the same protections as other working youth.”
“We don’t allow a 12-year-old to work in an air-conditioned office, yet US law allows that same 12-year-old to work 10-12 hours a day performing back-breaking work harvesting crops—even toxic ones like tobacco—in temperatures that are often in the 90s and even 100 degrees,” said Reid Maki, Director of Child Labor Advocacy, National Consumers League and coordinator of the Child Labor Coalition. “Farmworker children often work six or seven days a week and sometimes earn just $2-3 an hour because of the so-called ‘piece-rate.’ We don’t need to exploit impoverished children like this and we shouldn’t. The Child Labor Coalition is extremely grateful that Rep. Roybal-Allard has looked at the impact of hard labor on farmworker children’s health, education, and development—and said, ‘This must stop.’”
“The United States is known as the world leader on human rights, yet it is failing to protect all of its children from hazardous work on farms, as agreed to in ILO Convention 182,” said Norma Flores López, Chair of the Domestic Issues Committee at the Child Labor Coalition. “By allowing young children to perform back-breaking work with few protections, we are robbing them of their education, health and childhood. With the CARE Act, Congress has the opportunity—and the obligation—to do the right thing.”
In addition to addressing the age and hour requirements for child farmworkers, CARE addresses several other problem areas:
• To serve as a stronger deterrent for employers who violate child labor laws, the bill increases the maximum civil monetary penalties for child labor violations from $11,000 to $15,000. The bill also raises the maximum penalty to $50,000 and imposes a criminal penalty of up to 5 years imprisonment for willful or repeat violations that lead to the death or serious injury of a child worker.
• To provide children with greater protections, CARE codifies the labor standards for pesticide exposure to the levels currently enforced by the EPA, which prohibits children under 18 from handling pesticides. The handling of pesticides is already prohibited for children in all industries except for agriculture.
• To improve information gathering, the measure requires data collection on work-related injuries, illness, and deaths of children under age 18 in agriculture, as well as an annual report by the Secretary of Labor on child labor in the U.S.