Child Farm Workers




spray fatality wholesome
gap gape (2) commercial (2)
sector sharp (2) agriculture
crop choice bend down
drift require exposure
bill (2) harvest vulnerable
hurt prohibit legitimate
hire catch up embarrassed
enroll check (2) exception
toll (2) pending loophole
apply amend strawberry
chore pesticide compromise





Zama Coursen-Neff, Deputy Director, Children’s Rights Division: “We like to think of agriculture as good, clean, outside work — something healthy and wholesome and outdoors. And kids working for their families’ farms and helping out when they can.

The reality is today farmwork is something completely different.

Child One: “I started working when I was eleven years old.”
Child Two: “It feels like you don’t have any choices; you don’t feel the same as other kids.”

Zama Coursen-Neff, Deputy Director, Children’s Rights Division: “There are hun-dreds of thousands of kids working on US farms. And many kids who are working, are working on large commercial farms.

The child labor law in the US is good — except when it comes to agriculture; then it has a big gapping hole: US law allows children to work in agriculture at far younger ages, for unlimited hours outside of school, in much more dangerous conditions than any other sector.

So a child can work perfectly legally for any farmer at age 12. The child couldn’t work serving the food; but he can work 10, 12, 14 hours picking.

Farmwork is actually the most dangerous occupation that’s open to kids in the US in terms of fatalities.

Kids are working with dangerous and sharp tools, doing work that may require them to bend down for hours.

I talked to kids working in 14 states around the US . . . and the kids told me about the toll this work takes on their bodies.”

Child One: “The airplane flew over the field, and began spraying on the field. And I didn’t know what the spray, paint or what it was. The drift was coming towards our field because it was windy; and I’m thinking ‘oh it’s just water; they’re making the crops grow better.”

Zama Coursen-Neff, Deputy Director, Children’s Rights Division: “Now pesticide exposure isn’t good for any farm worker — but it’s especially bad for children whose bodies are still developing.

Farmworker families are typically very, very poor. Kids told me they worked to put food on the table, or to fix the family’s truck, or to pay the phone bill.

Kids are working because their families really need the money.

When children work so many hours during school and over the summers, it really hurts their education. Kids who migrate leave early and go back to school late, missing weeks or months of school every year.

These kids are from Texas where school started three days ago. Now some of these kids will enroll in Michigan schools when those start off in a couple of weeks. Others will just wait when they get back down to Texas.

Child Two: “It was hard to catch up in school; it wasn’t easy. It wasn’t easy for me because, sometimes I’ll be there in class and my friends know everything that I didn’t know.

It was hard.

And sometimes I feel kind of embarrassed because I never catch up with them.”

Zama Coursen-Neff, Deputy Director, Children’s Rights Division: “Kids are also working because it’s legal. The US law presents it as a legitimate choice for families to send their kids out to work.

And employers are free to hire them.”

Zama Coursen-Neff: “Do they pay each person?”
Migrant Worker: “Yeah, they pay us, each person.
Zama Coursen-Neff: “So even your twelve-year old daughter is going to make . . .”
Migrant Worker: “Yeah, they pay her. She’s twelve, so he’ll probably won’t make the check under her name because she doesn’t have any ID or anything to cash the check; so he’ll just put it in my check. “

Zama Coursen-Neff: “The Fair Labor Standard Act is a US Federal law, that among other things prohibits child labor. But when the law was passed, a big exception was made for agriculture.

In 1938, a lot of American lived on family farms. And far fewer Americans graduated from high school or needed a high school diploma.

Today, the picture is different . . .

But the loophole remains.

Child One: “It’s not right that these kids, including me, that I lost my childhood, and other children should lose their childhood as well.

Child Two: “When I turned 14, that’s when I dropped out of school — and went to the strawberries in Florida. And then we came back to Ohio and started working on the pickles harvesting.

But it really hasn’t been easy.”

Zama Coursen-Neff: “Right now there’s a bill pending in Congress called the Care Act. It’s a bill that would amend the Fair Labor Standards Act, to apply the same rules to kids working in agriculture, as kids working in any other sector.

A lot of people pick beans or tassel corn and other kinds of farmwork when they were teenagers.

But the Care bill is about protecting the most vulnerable kids, not kids who are doing chores, but young kids who are working such long hours and compromising their health and their education.

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1. The image and lifestyle of the traditional American farm is the same as the modern, commercial farm. True or false?

2. Is child labor on commercial farms a rare or widespread occurrence?

3. Working on commercial farms is perfectly safe and healthy. Is this right or wrong? What are some potential hazards (dangers)?

4. The police don’t do anything about child farm labor because they are lazy and corrupt. Yes or no?

5. Do children like, enjoy and prefer doing farm work? What do they say?

6. Is farm work compromising or hurting the children’s education? Is this good or bad?

7. Do the children work alone or with their parents? Do they only work on local farms?

8. Is the social worker or children’s rights advocate optimistic or pessimistic about the future?


A. Is there child labor in your town or city? If yes, what do they do? Is it considered a problem?

B. Who are these child workers? Where do they come from? What is their economic situation?

C. Has the situation been changing over the years?

D. Children should never do physical work; they should only go to school, study and play. What do you think?

E. What is the solution to the problem of child labor?

F. What will happen in the future?

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