New Bill Says ‘Children Don’t Belong on Tobacco Farms’Child Rights Safety
On July 31, Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) introduced the Children Don’t Belong on Tobacco Farms Act (H.R. 5327) to ensure the safety and health of young farmworkers. The bill follows the release of a report from Human Rights Watch (HRW) in May, which highlights the hazards children face while working in tobacco fields.
H.R. 5327 would amend the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to prohibit child labor in tobacco-related agriculture. The bill states that “Any employment in which children under the age of 18 come into direct contact with tobacco plants or dried tobacco leaves shall be considered particularly hazardous oppressive child labor…” In an interview with The Hill, Rep. Cicilline said the legislation could face opposition from tobacco farmers in Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Kentucky.
According to the HRW report, farmworkers as young as 7-years-old face severe health consequences and dangerous working conditions, with few legal protections under U.S. child labor laws. Children often work over 50 hours a week in extreme conditions, without adequate protective gear and are exposed to harmful chemicals and nicotine poisoning.
First Focus partnered with HRW in co-sponsoring a set of congressional briefings this spring on the hazardous working conditions for child laborers. In a blog written by Wendy Cervantes, First Focus Vice President of Immigration and Child Right Policy, Report Reveals Dangers Facing Child Workers on U.S. Tobacco Farms, Cervantes shares the personal stories of young laborers who spoke at the briefing:
Celia, a 20-year-old woman who has worked in the North Carolina tobacco fields since she was 12-years-old, recalled waking up as early as 5AM to work in extremely hot weather without protective gear or access to a bathroom. She reported that she usually waited until the end of her shift (sometimes as long as 12 hours a day) to use the bathroom, and on one occasion she felt so ill while working that she simply couldn’t continue. She continued to work, however, because she knew that her family needed her help and so that she could buy her school supplies. Now that she has learned about the dangers that exposure to nicotine and pesticides could have on her health, she asks, “Why is it illegal in the U.S. for a child to buy cigarettes, but children as young as 12 can work everyday in U.S. tobacco fields?”
Advocacy organizations and other groups have bolstered their efforts in recent months to try to answer Celia’s question and implement safeguards for children. HRW has a comprehensive campaign site, Made in the USA: Child Labor and Tobacco, with detailed descriptions of the issue and solutions. The Daily Show documented the issue with a report, Nicoteens, last month. Correspondent Samantha Bee interviews child laborers and a Kentucky tobacco farmer who believes that kids can gain a lot from their work experience. The compelling report is embedded below.
- First Focus Blog: Report Reveals Dangers Facing Child Workers on U.S. Tobacco Farms, by Wendy Cervantes
- Letter in Support of H.R. 5327 (from our partners at the First Focus Campaign for Children)
- H.R.5327 – Congress.gov bill website
- Human Rights Watch Report: Tobacco’s Hidden Children
- The Daily Show: Nicoteens