Thursday, May 10, 2012

A false choice: child safety versus family farms

Marjorie Elizabeth Wood's op-ed in the New York Times, "Pitting Child Safety Against the Family Farm" discusses the Obama administration's recent move "to prevent children under age 16 from working in dangerous farm jobs."  Such dangerous jobs include "handl[ing] pesticide, operat[ing] heavy machinery, cut[ting] timber and perform[ing] other agricultural tasks identified as hazardous to children by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health."

Republicans quickly "re-framed" the effort to invoke the time-worn myth of the family farm as a precinct--like the home itself--that should be beyond the reach of government:
[I]f the federal government can regulate the kind of relationship between parents and their children on their own family's farm, there is almost nothing off-limits in which we see the federal government intruding in a way of life.  
In the face of such rhetoric, the Obama administration backed off the new Labor Dept. initiatives.  But Wood points out that the law would not have applied to children working on their own family's farm.  Rather, the new rules were to  protect child labor--much of it migrant and seasonal--from the abuses of "Big Ag."
According to Human Rights Watch, child farm workers are at a greater risk of pesticide poisoning, serious injury, heat illness, and death than any other youth workers in America.  
And the failure to use the law to protect those children--like the failure to protect any child--is a travesty indeed.

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