Farmers Remain Divided on Child Labor

Months after the Department of Labor backed off plans to increase regulation of child labor on most farms, the agricultural community remains divided on the issue, with some farmers pleased that the regulations appear stillborn and with some farmers saying that the government should do more to protect children.

The proposed legislation, first suggested late last year, would have severely restricted the ability of farmers to employ children on their farms. Children under the age of 18 would have been prevented from working in grain silos and feedlots, while children under 16 would have been prevented from operating powered farm machinery. While the Labor Department regulation would have exempted children working on their parents’ farm, it would have significantly limited the ability of most farmers to employ children under 18.

While many farmers acknowledge that the Labor Department may have had good intentions, they believe that the labor regulation was misguided. “You can’t make a rule to stop every accident,” on Illinois farmer said. “There’s always a risk in life, no matter what you do.”

Other farmers point out that farm accidents among children under 18 have been declining sharply for the last several years. Between 2001 and 2009, farm injuries for workers under twenty have dropped from 13.5 to 7.2 per thousand farms.

Some farmers, however, believe that child labor is inherently dangerous. One Iowa farmer who lost her son in a farm accident stated that many farmers just don’t realize how dangerous farming can be. “I feel so guilty about it now. I just had not put it together how terribly dangerous it was and the risks he was in.”

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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer