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The Children In The Fields

Under federal law, children of any age can work on farms operated by their parents, and kids as young as 10 can be hired to work on farms not operated by their relatives during short-term harvests. At age 12, kids can begin working nonhazardous farm jobs outside school hours with parental permission. And at 16, they can do any job on a farm regardless of the risks. That’s at least two years younger than other industries.

Farms have long operated under looser child labor laws than every other industry. For non-agricultural work, the rules are stricter: Federal law says kids must be 14 to work — only in non-hazardous conditions — and their hours are limited during the school week. For hazardous work, the minimum age is 18.

There have been several attempts in recent years — through both legislation in Congress and administrative rule-making — to tighten the child labor restrictions for farms, but they have all failed in the face of opposition by agricultural conglomerates.