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Children of Our Fields November 1, 2012

Posted by acroanmph in Public Health.
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2 comments

Every time we sit at a table at night or in the morning to enjoy the fruits and grain and vegetables from our good earth, remember that they come from the work of men and women and children who have been exploited for generations. -Cesar Chavez

Of the three to five million U.S. migrant and legal immigrant workers, about 600,000 of them are children. It’s difficult to ascertain an accurate count, because they are under-reported.

Most industries allow minors to work from the age of 16, but for agriculture the minimum age drops to 12. The migrant field worker families often have several children whom each year they uproot from their homes and schools to travel sometimes many states away, to work in endless fields 10-14 hours per day from the age of 12. Sometimes as young as 7 because there is no childcare. And they do this because they feel they have no other choice.

From today’s Latin American Herald Times,

North Carolina’s regional coordinator of Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs, Emily Drakage’s, mission is to document the amount of child labor in the agricultural sector, educate the public and local leaders about the conditions in which the children work and seek support from other organizations to get these minors out of the fields.

“It’s a very tough problem. There are cultural and linguistic barriers, economic interests, immigration, educational and health problems, but someone has to speak for these workers who have no voice and are unaware of their rights,” Drakage said.

Farm workers earn an average of just $7,000 a year and must pay part of their salary to their employer to cover transport and housing costs. Children earn $1,000 a year.

Usual migrant housing is filthy, rusted and cramped. Poverty levels are extremely high. Little to no access to health care is common. Health insurance is unheard of. One hundred thousand children are injured by sharp blades and other farm machinery each year.

Farmworkers are among the highest risk groups for:

  • Poverty–among 97% of migrant workers
  • Lack of basic education, literacy and language skills, job training
  • Poor health: respiratory and dermatological illnesses, dehydration, heat stroke and heat illness, chronic muscular and skeletal pain, direct exposure to sanitation chemicals and pesticides, infectious disease, chronic disease, work-related injuries, depression and substance abuse, lack of sanitation
  • Death
  • Sexual abuse
  • Gang activity
  • Marginalization
  • Slave wages and wage fraud
  • Failure to thrive under provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act and child labor laws

In 1960, Edward R. Murrow’s “Harvest of Shame” aired the day after Thanksgiving. Fifty years later, CBS News revisits the very topic and details again the deplorable working conditions of the migrant family.

Feeling grateful this month as you prepare the bounty for your Thanksgiving table? In a nation where 2/3 of adults and 1/3 of children are overweight or obese from making poor choices about food, one-fifth of our farm workforce is children. These workers drive the agricultural sector and provide fresh food the millions of the rest of us enjoy everyday.

Related Reading:

Itinerant LIfe Weighs on Farmworkers’ Children (www.nytimes.com)

NOW With Bill Moyers  (www.pbs.org)

Shame On Obama Administration For Sacrificing Children to Keep Agribusiness Happy (www.citizen.org)

United Farm Workers (www.ufw.org)

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