By Olivia Hampton (AFP) –
WASHINGTON — No child should have to choose between putting food on the table and getting a proper education, actress Eva Longoria said Wednesday calling for more rights for the youngest US farm workers.
“Every time you eat a salad, every time you eat a vegetable, you have to think that this might have been picked by a child,” Longoria, who grew up on a farm in Texas, told a press conference campaigning for a reform of child labor laws.
“The children who feed the most well-fed nation in the world go to bed hungry,” added the star of ABC television’s “Desperate Housewives.”
She was introducing a documentary which said more than a quarter of all the fruits and vegetables consumed in the United States are picked by as many as 400,000 migrant child workers, many of them US citizens or legal residents.
Victor Huapilla, a 16-year-old in Florida, said he gets paid about one dollar for every bucket he fills with 25 pounds (11 kilograms) of tomatos. He carries an average of 2,500 pounds (1,134 kilograms) a day.
“The United States is a Third World country where agriculture is concerned,” said director Robin Romano, who followed five families over two years across the United States for his documentary “The Harvest/La Cosecha.”
Outraged that so many children in the United States work up to 14 hours a day eight months a year without the protection of child labor laws, some congressional representatives are pressing for new legislation.
Two thirds of child farm workers — many of them Hispanic Americans — do not graduate from school because of work and family obligations, according to some estimates.
“As schools opened in the past few weeks, sadly absent from the classroom were thousands of children who remain working in the field,” said Democratic lawmaker Lucille Roybal-Allard.
“Most of these children will start the academic year late and continue to work long hours, leaving them little time or energy to do their homework.”
She has sought congressional action on her Children’s Act for Responsible Employment (CARE Act) for the past nine years. It has the support of 105 representatives, far short from the 216-member majority to pass the bill.
Roybal-Allard said the main opposition to her bill came from the farming industry, which uses children as a source of “cheap labor.”
But she added most Americans remained unaware that it is legal for US children aged 12 and sometimes younger to harvest fruits and vegetables under harsh conditions.
Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the minimum age for particularly hazardous work in agriculture is age 16, two years younger than in all other sectors of the economy. Roybal-Allard’s bill would raise that minimum age to 18.
The FLSA also includes exemptions where children younger than 12 can work on small farms.
Currently the normal minimum age for employment in agriculture is 14, with shifts limited to outside of school hours, whereas the age for all other industries stands at 16.
To find out more about Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard’s work on the CARE Act please click Lucille’s Legislation at www.house.gov/roybal-allard.