There was a shocking report released this weekend by Human Rights Watch. It reports that thousands of kids, as young as 7, are employed in tobacco farms where they work 60-70 hour weeks and are prone to illnesses that are work related. 90% of the tobacco is grown in four states: Kentucky, Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee.
The working conditions are bad enough to break down an adult let alone a child. Tobacco field work is harsh. The kids are not given any facilities to use, they have no clean drinking water, and they frequently come down with rashes and illnesses that are related to nicotine poisoning. The fields are heavily sprayed with pesticides and while no one knows the total effect of this on a person, everyone pretty much agrees it isn’t good.
I have to admit I was surprised to the extent this is going on. I knew that on large farms – especially out in California and Texas – that children worked. They are normally part of migrant families who move around in a seasonal rotation. You can see their camps out in the fields. They are harder to track because they do move around. I didn’t realize however that the tobacco farms were also exploiting migrants and child labor to this degree.
Furthermore, I was shocked to learn it is legal in most cases. I don’t know why this is. Only CNN is really reporting on this and I think they only did so because Human Rights Watch got a favor from someone to get them on the weekend reporting cycle. News networks in the States have become a joke. It shows in their ratings which have plummeted. Most ‘newshounds’ I know actually turn to overseas sources to keep tabs on what is going on. CNN never said why it was legal – that would take in-depth journalism, something they long ago abandoned – and I think most Americans would be surprised to learn it is legal.
We do have child labor laws here. Even a fast-food place probably won’t hire you unless you are 16. It varies state to state but generally the law is around 15-16 and even then the number of hours can be limited. Apparently, farms aren’t covered by the child labor laws in this country. I don’t know why that is, someone with more legal knowledge might be able to shed light on that.
I think it is good if a 16 y.o. gets a part-time job. It helps with responsibility and probably helps keep them out of trouble. But there is no way that kids as young as 7 should be in the fields and especially under those conditions. Human Rights Watch says it is trying to get the law changed but is meeting resistance from businesses and farms. “Doing the right thing” is never part of a free-market/capitalistic scenario. I’m appalled that children are treated this way and I hope Human Rights Watch succeeds. Kudos to them for exposing what is going on. I am linking their report HERE.