The CARE Act Will Provide Equal Protection for Children Working in Agriculture

Zulema Lopez, featured in the Shine Global documentary The Harvest (La Cosecha), picking strawberries in Kaleva, MI in 2009. She started to help her mother pick strawberries when she was 7 years old. (Photo by U Roberto Romano).

Zulema Lopez, featured in the Shine Global documentary The Harvest (La Cosecha), picking strawberries in Kaleva, MI in 2009. She started to help her mother pick strawberries when she was 7 years old. (Photo by U Roberto Romano).

Rep. Roybal-Allard, 24 Cosponsors Reintroduce CARE Act to Strengthen Protections for Child Farmworkers

Separate and unequal. That describes the estimated 500,000 American children who work in agriculture are under the current Fair Labor Standards Act. Children as young as 12 work in fields, picking the fruits and vegetables we all eat with almost no restrictions. In other industries, they are protected and only allowed to work a limited amount of time and only outside of school hours. And in other industries, hazardous work is reserved only for adults – but not in agriculture. Children as young as 16 can perform hazardous labor. And with the majority of work-related fatalities in the agriculture sector, it is imperative that we take action to protect these children.

And that is what Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-40) and 24 co-sponsors are doing with the reintroduction of the Children’s Act for Responsible Employment and Farm Safety (CARE) Act.  The legislation would raise standards and protections for children working in agriculture to be at the same level as that for children in all other jobs.   The congresswoman announced the CARE Act’s reintroduction at a press event in the U.S. Capitol on June 20th alongside advocates including Mónica Ramírez, the president of Justice for Migrant Women; Norma López, the chair of the Domestic Issues Committee for the Child Labor Coalition; and Brenda Alvarez-Lagunas, a former child farmworker who recently made national news for her valedictorian speech at her high school graduation.

“America is morally obligated to protect the rights, safety, and future of every child in our nation,”said Congresswoman Roybal-Allard.  “Sadly, our child agricultural workers do not enjoy these protections.  They currently face a double standard that lets them work at younger ages, for longer hours, and in more hazardous conditions than child workers in any other industry.  If we value our youth, if we support fair and decent treatment for all children, then we must pass the CARE Act and finally ensure fundamental protections for America’s child farmworkers.”

“Shine Global stood with Representative Roybal-Allard when she attempted to pass the CARE Act in 2010 by screening our film The Harvest (La Cosecha) for both members of Congress and the Department of Labor. The film’s executive producer, Eva Longoria, made an impassioned plea on behalf of these children to legislators. It is heartbreaking that our government has not yet seen fit to protect its own children,” says Shine Global executive director, Susan MacLaury. “We applaud Congresswoman Roybal-Allard and her colleagues who refuse to give up on American children and urge everyone to stand in support of our children.”

Key provisions of the CARE bill:

While retaining current exemptions for family farms and educational programs like 4-H and Future Farmers of America, the CARE Act:

  • Brings age and work hour standards for children in agriculture up to the standards for children working in all other industries:
  Existing Law for Agricultural Employment Existing Law for Non-Agricultural Employment CARE Act provisions
Non-Hazardous Job, Age 12-13 Can work outside of school hours with parental consent. Prohibited. Prohibited.
Non-Hazardous Job, Age 14-15 Can work outside of school hours without any restrictions on number of hours per day or per week. Can work outside of school hours.  Cannot work before 7 a.m. or after 7 p.m. or for more than 3 hours on a school day or more than 18 in a school week. Imposes the same hour restrictions in place for non-agricultural workers on agricultural workers.
Hazardous, Age 16-17 Minimum age is 16 for hazardous jobs. Prohibited until age 18. Prohibited until age 18.
  • Establishes a minimum penalty for child labor violations;
  • Increases the maximum civil monetary penalties and maximum criminal penalties for child labor violations;
  • Provides children with greater protections against pesticide exposure in agriculture by raising the labor protections to EPA standards.
  • Includes reporting requirements on work-related injuries and serious illness.