By Sarah Gustafson, 17, Immaculate Heart HS,
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A Haitian boy picks cucumbers in Maryland.
Photo by Philip Decker courtesy of the Assn. of Farmworker Opportunity Programs

Summer’s coming up, and everyone has decided to hunt down a summer job. My friends share advice: Yeah, the Bowl is a lot of fun, but beware of drunk guys hitting on you at Aerosmith concerts. In-n-Out? Not bad, you get $8 an hour. Tutoring? Good cash if you can get it.

No matter how many irritable customers we have to deal with, we expect to find clean bathrooms and regular paychecks. We don’t have to use dangerous tools, and if a supervisor tries to harrass a female employee, she can quit the job or bring him to court. We expect these protections—the federal laws guarantee them. But through a campaign by Human Rights Watch, I found out that a lot of kids and teens who work on farms do not enjoy the same working conditions that we take for granted.

I have joined other students at Human Rights Watch to fight for a law called the CARE bill to prohibit children from hazardous labor, enforce minimum hours that allow children to attend school, and toughen inspection policies. When farms deny child workers toilets, water, or fair pay, the state will punish them with increased fines.

Currently, federal law allows agriculture businesses to exploit children who work in fields and packing plants. Children can use pesticides, cutting instruments, and heavy machinery. Fourteen and 15-year-olds can work unlimited hours with no overtime. When companies fail to provide proper water or sanitation, the government slaps their wrists with fines of a few thousand dollars. For all their hard work, children often lose their wages; most get paid about $4 an hour, and many receive $3 for 12 hours of work a day.

In most jobs, the Fair Standards of Labor Act (FSLA) forbids children under 14 from working. Agricultural employers, on the other hand, can hire 12- and 13-year olds to work on a farm—as long as a parent works on the same farm. The exception encourages large farms to force children of their adult workers to join their parents’ job—instead of going to school.

In addition, the FSLA requires that children work only 40 hours in a nonschool week, and 18 hours in a school week. In agriculture, however, the FSLA allows employers to hire 14 and 15-year old children to work unlimited hours—and without parental consent. With this exception, employers can make children work 12 or more hours a day under grueling conditions, thus denying them a chance to get an education.

More than 300,000 children work in agriculture, and very few can rely on protections of their rights. Without powerful lobbies pressuring the government for child farmworkers’ rights, little has changed since the 1970s, when Congress last amended the FLSA.

To address this situation, students across Los Angeles have joined to fight for the passage of the CARE law. With the guidance of Human Rights Watch, we’ve visited Congress members, given speeches at schools, held an art contest, and gathered almost 3,000 signatures on petitions.

For more information, visit There is a petition to sign and a letter to send to your representatives. To get directly involved, call Human Rights Watch at (310) 477-5540 or e-mail