Children as young as 7, many of them Hispanics, are working in tobacco fields under hazardous health conditions, according to the report “Tobacco’s Hidden Children” released on Wednesday by the Human Rights Watch.
The majority of children interviewed were of Hispanic origin. Many were U.S. citizens born to non-citizen parents, and almost all reported working out of a need to provide for themselves and their families.
The report found that children as young as 7 years old,were doing tasks such as harvesting, planting and weeding that put them in direct contact with the tobacco leaves, which causes them to absorb nicotine through their skin and expose them to high levels of the toxic.
Workers can absorb up to 54 milligrams of dissolved nicotine in one day of work, the equivalent of 50 cigarettes, according to a 2005 study by Dr Robert McKnight, of the College of Public Health at the University of Kentucky, Lexington.
The Associated Press said that children interviewed by the group in 2012 and 2013 reported vomiting, nausea and headaches while working on tobacco farms.
“The U.S. has failed America’s families by not meaningfully protecting child farmworkers from dangers to their health and safety, including on tobacco farms,” said Margaret Wurth, children’s rights researcher and co-author of the report. “Farming is hard work anyway, but children working on tobacco farms get so sick that they throw up, get covered by pesticides and have no real protective gear.”
Is this legal?
Most of these children have no protections under U.S. law, and the Human Rights Watch is urging the industry to develop tougher protections for its youngest workers.
According to the Associated Press, the Department of Labor proposed a law that would bar children under the age of 16 from working on tobacco farms in 2011, but withdrew it in 2012.
The report reveal that the U.S. agriculture labor laws allow children to work longer hours at younger ages and in more hazardous conditions than children in any other industry.
With their parent’s permission, children as young as 12 can be hired for unlimited hours outside of school hours on a farm of any size. And there’s no minimum age for children to work on small farms.
As the school year ends, children are heading into the tobacco fields, where they cant avoid being exposed to dangerous nicotine, without smoking a single cigarette, said Margaret Wurth, childrens rights researcher at Human Rights Watch (HRW) and co-author of the report. Its no surprise the children exposed to poisons in the tobacco fields are getting sick.
Republican Kentucky state senator Paul Hornback says he worked in tobacco fields from when he was 10 years old and doesnt think further legislation is necessary. Its hard manual labor, but theres nothing wrong with hard manual labor, he told the Associated Press.