Target: California Governor Jerry Brown and Paul Wenger, President of the California Farm Bureau Federation
Goal: Reform the use of child labor in Californian agriculture
For the majority of Americans child labor does not mean much; mowing the lawn, doing the dishes, cleaning the gutters, maybe a paper route or an afterschool job. Yet for thousands of young people the reality of child labor is dramatically different. Forced into working brutal hours in fruit and vegetable fields, young migrant workers struggle to keep grocery store shelves stocked and their countrymen fed.
California is home to the majority of these young laborers, the children of immigrants who need to work to help support their families. Due to a law from 1938, children are allowed to work in agriculture at any age even though it is not legal to employ children in other sectors.
Eight-year-olds are not an uncommon sight in the fields, and as long as they have their parent’s permission to work, no laws are being broken. Their days start before dawn and often last ten hours or more. Few of the children make it through high school, and because of this spend the rest of their adult lives laboring in the fields. Summer temperatures regularly peak at over 100 degrees and many children work until their hands literally bleed.
For the must part United States child labor laws are excellent, but this is a glaring oversight. There is no justification for children being forced to work all day for low pay and to often sacrifice their education and future. The problem of child labor is rampant in California and other agricultural centers throughout the U.S. and something must be done.
The families of the child workers do need the extra income and growers need the extra hands to keep up with demand, but the rights of the children must also be protected. Tell California that the needs of child laborers need to be taken into account.
Dear Governor Brown and President Wenger,
Agriculture is a vital part of the Californian economy. The crops cultivated in California play a large role in keeping Americans fed and our grocery stores stocked with good, fresh produce. Yet it would seem that this agricultural bounty has come at a high cost.
Californian farms employee thousands of people and provide valuable income for numerous struggling families. However, many of these workers are children, forced to work long and brutal hours in an attempt to help support their families. These children begin their days when most of us are still asleep, often rising hours before the sun is up.
They then work for ten or more hours in blistering heat with little relief from the scorching sun. They oftentimes must work until their hands literally bleed. The amount that they work means that many of these children end up leaving school and being stuck working in the fields, continuing the cycle.
None of this is illegal. With a parent’s permission, a child of any age can work on a farm full-time. This made sense in 1938 when child labor laws were established and many Americans owned farms and needed extra workers during farming season, but it has no place in a modern context.
The United States’ child labor laws are quite comprehensive and do a lot to protect the nation’s children,but this is one area in which we fall woefully short. Clearly a compromise must be struck; families depend on the extra income and farmers need the workers, but most importantly we need to protect children. Please gentleman, reexamine the use of child labor on California farms.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: rwkvisual via flickr