Children as young as seven are legally working on U.S. tobacco farms, and the practice is, not surprisingly, harming their the health.
Children working on tobacco farms in the United States are exposed to nicotine, toxic pesticides, and other dangers. Child tobacco workers often labor 50 or 60 hours a week in extreme heat, use dangerous tools and machinery, lift heavy loads, and climb into the rafters of barns several stories tall, risking serious injuries and falls.
The report authors spoke with more than 140 children, ages 7 to 17 from May to October 2013, and learned that many display symptoms of acute nicotine poisoning, including nausea, vomiting, headaches, skin rashes, loss of appetite and others. "I would barely eat anything because I wouldn’t get hungry. …Sometimes I felt like I needed to throw up. …I felt like I was going to faint. I would stop and just hold myself up with the tobacco plant," said 13-year-old Elena.
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, who are overwhelmingly poor. Per the report:
In 2008-2009, the median annual income among US crop workers was $18,750. A 2008 report from the US Department of Agriculture found poverty among farmworkers is more than double that of all wage and salary employees in the United States.
Disturbingly, most of these children have no protections under U.S. law. According to the report, children 12 and over can work on a tobacco farm of any size, for unlimited hours, as long as they are granted parental permission and don't work instead of going to school. Children under 12 can work on small, family farms. Agriculture is the only industry that allows children of this age to work — others generally don't allow employment of children under 14, at all.