While the United States has strict rules regarding the type of environments children can work in, agricultural jobs for young people are still common with an estimated 500,000 labourers under the age of 18. A mixture of state and federal guidelines allows children to be employed in this sector as long as their work hours do not interfere with school and they are kept out of harms way. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration agrees, saying children as young as 12 can work in agricultural settings, but only if “a parent has given written permission or is working on the same farm”. Younger children under age 12 are also allowed to work, but only on farms where the owners are exempt from paying the minimum wage, which is currently $7.25 an hour in most states.
Farming is a risky occupation meaning children who work in this field can be exposed to harm. Some organisations have tried to make the occupation safer by introducing new regulations such as “[decreasing] pesticide exposure incidents” amongst labourers but unfortunately, the reality is children employed on farms are still vulnerable. There continues to be accounts of young people sustaining serious bodily harm while working in the agriculture industry, with a “disproportionately high” number never recovering from certain accidents.
Since child labour in this form is often ignored, a number of advocacy groups have worked hard to raise the public’s awareness and become more conscious of who harvests their food. Groups such as the Human Rights Watch, the National Farm Worker Ministry and the Child Labour Coalition actively encourage the abandonment of labour in this form. Even former child farmworkers have spoken out against the practice, citing the physical toll it has had on their developing bodies. Together these movements have the power to enact change and prevent future generations of children from taking on this type of work.