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Child Labor, Back To The Past

Who ever thought that in this day and age and certainly not in the United States, the land of "opportunity" or should we say now "lost opportunity," that so many children are actually forced into the labor pool. A recent report by The Human Rights Watch has uncovered very disturbing revelations occurring right here in a country that was thought to have very strict labor laws concerning our children and youth. Oh Contraire, the tip of an iceberg has just been uncovered. This is where children as young as 8 have been found working on farms in North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia. The tobacco industry has been known to blatantly use current labor laws to their fullest advantage. But, it is these states where the majority of the country's tobacco is grown that harbor the most unethical practices in recruiting our youth. With current economic conditions that have only deteriorated for millions of Americas parents virtually have no choice but to allow their children to work where conditions are known to be detrimental to their health.

Many would have thought that labor laws that were first introduced during the early 20th century would have effectively eliminated the practice of businesses to openly recruit children for the sake of garnishing more profits by paying them much less than adult workers. Apparently, that is still not the case today. When we look back to the turn of the 20th century it took the National Child Labor Committee, an organization dedicated to the abolition of all child labor, in1904 to make the public aware of the horrific living and working conditions so many of our nations youth were exposed to. Sounding very familiar to today with more and more of our youth facing dire living conditions. They did this by actually publishing information all across the country on those conditions. By doing so helped to mobilize popular support for state level child labor laws. These laws were often paired with compulsory education laws which were designed to keep children in school and out of the labor market until the age of 16.

In 1916 the NCLC pressured Congress to pass the Keating-Owen Act, which then was signed into law by President Wilson. But leave it to our Supreme Court to muck things up two years later, just like today when they ruled on Campaign Finance which makes a mockery out of our democratic process, when they declared the Keating-Owen law violated the Commerce Clause by regulating interstate commerce. Again a few years latter Congress was pressured by the NCLC but, yet again our Congress voted against any measure that would go against that Supreme Court ruling.

When the Great Depression hit it virtually ended child labor nationwide. In 1938, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the Fair Labor Standards Act. Unfortunately this law excluded agriculture. As a result over 500,000 children are now picking more than a quarter of the food currently produced in the United States. This ought to be a national outrage. Modern day slavery is alive and flourishing right here in the USA.

Today, what has been going on for years has been glossed over by the media but apparently just like our Veterans our youth are pawns in a much greater deception where profit at all cost continues. By using current laws the tobacco and other agricultural industries have only gotten richer. A travesty that has ben going on for years. We have been blind for too long to see that our youth are being exposed to very harmful and hazardous working conditions by the way they are still harvesting cash crops all over the United Sates. The U.S. has failed America's families by not meaningfully protect child farm workers from the dangers to their health and safety, including working on tobacco farms.

It has been reported that children working on tobacco farms get so sick, get covered by pesticides and have no real protective gear at all. When children have recently been interviewed they all reported vomiting, nausea and headaches while working on tobacco farms. These symptoms are consistent with nicotine poisoning often called Green Tobacco Sickness, which occurs when workers absorb nicotine through their skin while handling tobacco plants. It is our youth that are often made to work long hours, many times in weather conditions that are unbearable without overtime pay and breaks that would help break up the drudgery of the day. Inhumane conditions are too often the realm of reality for too many.

According to the report, U.S. current agriculture labor laws allow children to work longer hours at younger ages and in more hazardous conditions than children in any other industry, like working for McDonalds. But so far neither Congress of any of the major tobacco industries like R.J. Reynolds have made any strides in reducing the number of youth working on farms that are known to be hazardous to their health. As usual our Congress in 2011 when the Labor Department proposed changes that would have prohibited children under 16 from working on tobacco farms aligned themselves with the big tobacco firms which continue to funnel campaign funds into those coffers of political expediency, overwhelmingly supported no changes in the existing labor laws. That was just two years ago. To date there still remains over 500,000 of our youth engaged in the very harmful practice of tobacco harvesting.

As long as our political system is so corrupt the likelihood of changes to labor laws to include agricultural industries will never happen. Our youth, our economy, and our future depends on labor laws that favor the expansion of the economy and not just big business while the rest of the country withers on the vine of lost opportunities. The health and safety of all and that includes our nations youth have to be a major focal point in rewriting labor laws today.