By Ayrianne Parks, Communications Director, Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs, and Reid Maki, Coordinator, Child Labor Coalition
This past Sunday, 60 Minutes focused much needed attention on the issue of child labor in U.S. agriculture. The piece, which may have seemed balanced to the average viewer, failed to convey the dangers child farmworkers are exposed to, including toxic pesticides, razor-sharp tools, and the educational harm that they suffer.
The show’s segment called, “The debate on child labor,” focused mostly on agricultural economics from the perspective of a migrant farmworker family and a grower—both struggling to get by. However, this is an issue that existed far before the recession. Farmworkers make an average of $10,000 to $12,000 annually with no benefits. These extremely low wages in farm work, often compel parents to bring their very young children to work in agriculture, an environment most—including the father interviewed—hope their children will have the opportunity to escape in adulthood to pursue their dreams. The grower interviewed pointed out that Americans want cheap produce and that comes at a price paid by the sweat and toil of laborers.
Byron Pitts, who reported on the issue, also interviewed Norma Flores López, AFOP’s Children in the Fields Campaign Program Director and Domestic Issues Chair of the Child Labor Coalition. Several months ago, when 60 Minutes filmed its interview of Flores López, a former migrant farmworker child herself, she spoke in detail about the educational and health consequences of child labor. While most of her concerns did not make it into the show, 60 Minutes did post some of her comments on their Web site, but it is likely few Americans will see them. The average viewer who watched the show will come away with the impression that plucky farmworker kids will survive their years of child labor without suffering many negative consequences. Some do, most do not.
When Byron Pitts asked a large group of farmworker kids how many of them planned to go to college, each of them raised a hand. Having worked in the same South Texas fields as the kids, Norma Flores López knows well that few migrant kids are able to overcome the exhaustion of working 10-14 hours days or the obstacles that accompany missing school and changing schools, because their family is constantly migrating.
The sad truth is that most migrant kids do not even make it through high school. Federal data on this is horrible, but if you talk to migrant educators they will tell you that the dropout rate in many migrant communities ranges from 50 to 80 percent.
Farmworker children pay a high price, often sacrificing their education and health, for the very little amount they actually earn by working in the fields. We are thankful to 60 Minutes for helping bring attention to the very real problem of child labor in America and we hope that those who watched the piece will continue to educate themselves, their families, friends, and communities on the inequity of U.S. child labor law which—for reasons that are unclear to many of us—allows impoverished Latino children to sacrifice their futures for what often amounts to subminimum wages. For more information on child labor in the U.S. please visit www.afop.org or www.stopchildlabor.org.