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Loophole in child labor laws impacts California farmhands

Workers of all ages should have protections in the workplace. These should include proper safety precautions, freedom from harassment and being paid at least minimum wage. Californians might assume that employment law also protects children from working when they should be in school. However, this is not necessarily the case. Child labor is common on California farms -- big and small.

The Fair Labor Standard Act was passed in 1938 and governs a variety of employment law issues including wages, employee benefits and child labor laws. While the FLSA generally sets out workers' rights, it also allows for young children to work.

Under the FLSA, children ages 12 to 14 can work in an agricultural setting with a parent's permission. However, some exceptions allow children who are even younger to work on farms -- some as young as eight have been reported. Children who are at least 14 years old can work on farms, even without a parent's permission.

Not only does this law exist, but there are thousands of children all over the country who are actually working in the fields. According to a new report, these children work long and grueling days. While other child labor laws that allow children to work have restrictions on the amount children can work, this particular provision does not. Therefore, children can work without regard for their schooling and many drop out of school altogether. Some children have reported working nine to 10 hour days in extremely hot weather. Others report working so hard that they have injured themselves.

Some members of Congress have tried to change this law to put more protections in place for these children. However, this effort has stalled after opposition from farmers. These children, like all workers, deserve protections to keep them safe. Employment laws should provide this protection.

Source: NBC Chicago, "Child Labor: Youthful Hands Picking Our Food," Stephen Stock and David Paredes, Aug. 6, 2012

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