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It's not allowed to happen in Russia, or in Kazakhstan—but in the United States, children as young as twelve are allowed to toil on tobacco farms, performing backbreaking work and putting their health and lives at risk.
As Gabriel Thompson and Mariya Strauss document in The Nation, agricultural work is dangerous: on top of exposure to heavy pesticides and the possibility of acute nicotine poisoning, young workers are vulnerable to hazards involving farm vehicles, grain silos and manure pits.
As Strauss reports, since 2012, when the Obama administration rescinded plans to implement new safety measures and a ban on children working in tobacco farms, at least thirteen young workers have died. Had the administration acted then, we might not have lost Michael Steele, a 15-year-old saving up for a pickup truck who died in a tractor accident, or Enrique, a hardworking 14-year-old who was crushed to death while working on a ranch in Idaho.
The Children's Act for Responsible Employment (CARE Act), introduced by Representative Lucille Roybal-Allard this year but blocked by the GOP-controlled Education and Workforce Committee, would bring child labor standards in line with protections in other industries and increase civil penalties for abuse. The measure faces stiff opposition, but the exploitation of children, in the final telling, should be impossible to defend.
Join The Nation in calling for an end to child labor in agriculture. Contact your representatives and demand they fight to bring the CARE Act up for a vote. Then tweet at Representative John Kline (@repjohnkline), chair of the Education and Workforce Committee, and demand his committee act to fight this gross injustice.
Tar from the tobacco leaves stains the hands of young workers.