Target: Speaker of the House John Boehner
Goal: Tell Congress to stop child labor on tobacco fields
Cigarette makers are prohibited from marketing to children, so why do tobacco farms across the United States continue to employ them? Such is the question posed by human rights groups and children’s rights activists after a Human Rights Watch report revealed that there are over 300,000 under-aged children slaving away on tobacco farms in southern states like North Carolina, Kentucky and Virginia, where about 90% of US tobacco is produced.
According to the report, children as young as thirteen years old work 50 to 60 hour weeks in the blazing sun (the summer months are the height of the tobacco growing season) with little to no supervision, shade, or protection from the harmful sprays of pesticides. These pesticides are sprayed directly in the fields where the children work, causing them to itch and their skin to burn. Many children that work on tobacco fields become diagnosed with acute nicotine poisoning, a side effect of nicotine absorption through the skin due to improper protection. Others are subjected to physical injuries like the loss of fingers, cuts, or bruises from hacking down six foot tall tobacco leaves and climbing several stories in barns to hang tobacco plants to dry.
Although it is illegal for children to work until they are at least fourteen years old, farm labor is extremely open ended. So long as a parent gives their consent, a child as young as twelve can be legally hired to work on a farm for any amount of hours — and there are absolutely no sanctions or protections for children employed on tobacco farms.
One young girl in the Human Rights Watch report, fifteen-year-old *Grace, didn’t mind the work, she was simply happy to be earning money, “I just wanted to help out my mom” she says. Like Grace, many of the children employed on tobacco farms use the money earned to buy school supplies, clothes, or to help their families. But no child should have to subject themselves to the potentially fatal conditions of working on in a tobacco field just to earn a living. Children are far more vulnerable and at a high risk because they are still developing, both mentally and physically, and the toxicity of tobacco farms pose a unique threat to their health and well-being. Sign the petition to urge the US Congress to rectify the laws that permit child labor on tobacco farms and make it illegal.
*name has been changed.
Dear John Boehner,
Hundreds of thousands of children face imminent danger and potential fatalities working on the hundreds of tobacco farms sprinkled throughout the southern United States. Many of these children slave away for almost 70 hours a week picking tobacco to help pay for school supplies, buy clothing or help their needy families. According to US law children aren’t supposed to work until they are at least fourteen years of age. But, farm work, especially in tobacco fields, seems to be missing from the list of industries children are prohibited from working in. If cigarette companies are forbidden from marketing their products to children, then why are they able to get away with hiring them?
Pesticides, nicotine poisoning, injuries, low pay, sweltering heat and inadequate education are just a few of the problems children working in tobacco fields face — and the US Congress is doing nothing to protect them. Not only is this disappointing, but shameful that the existence of childhood has been replaced by dehumanizing labor and exploitation.
I urge you to put an end to this injustice and free the children in tobacco fields from their toxic, harmful, and deadly chains.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: The Library of Congress via everystockphoto