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Should we take children off the farm?

A grain silo is seen next to a rape field in April  19, 2012 in Lieurey, Normandy, west of Paris.     AFP PHOTO/JOEL SAGET (Photo credit should read JOEL SAGET/AFP/Getty Images)
A grain silo is seen next to a rape field in April 19, 2012 in Lieurey, Normandy, west of Paris.

A new rule proposed by the US Department of Labor would change child labor rules on farms, in stockyards or at livestock auctions.

A new rule proposed by the U.S. Department of Labor would change child labor laws in the agriculture industry.

The Department of Labor states:

“The proposed rule would not change any of the Fair Labor Standards Act's minimum age standards for agricultural employment. Under the FLSA, the legal age to be employed on a farm without restrictions is 16. The FLSA also allows children between the ages of 12 and 15 years, under certain conditions, to be employed outside of school hours to perform nonhazardous jobs on farms. Children under the age of 12 may be employed with parental permission on very small farms to perform nonhazardous jobs outside of school hours.

"Young people can be employed to perform many jobs on the farm – and this would be true even if the proposed rule were adopted as written. The proposed rule would, however, prohibit the employment of workers under the age of 18 in nonagricultural occupations in the farm-product raw materials wholesale trade industries. Prohibited establishments would include country grain elevators, grain elevators, grain bins, silos, feed lots, feed yards, stockyard, livestock exchanges, and livestock auctions not on a farm or used solely by a single farmer.”

Under pressure from some farm groups, the Labor Department says it will exclude children who work on their parents farms.

Nevertheless, the blowback from these proposed regulations has come from both farm owners and youths who have grown up working on farms. Parents and owners still say they will have to hire outside help, which would further shave an already razor thin profit margin; many who have grown up on farms say they learned valuable lessons in responsibility and work ethic.

Under the new rules the government approved safety training taught by youth groups such as 4-H and FFA would be revoked, leaving many to question whether the new laws would bring more harm than good. The main concern from the Department of Labor has been the endangerment of minors in the workplace - a problem that has been well documented in the agricultural industry.

So, are farms simply too dangerous a place for young people? Parents have their children do chores around the house all of the time - how is farm labor any different? What are the ramifications of making youth groups like the 4-H and FFA less certifiable? What will be the effect on the family farm industry?


Kristie Boswell, Director of Congressional Relations, American Farm Bureau Federation

Norma Flores López, former child farmworker; Chair of the Child Labor Coalition's Committee on Domestic Issues and Director of the Children in the Fields Campaign at the Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs (AFOP)

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