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Students fight for children’s act

Human Rights Watch Task Force meets with McKeon staff member

Posted: February 9, 2010 6:21 p.m.
Updated: February 10, 2010 4:55 a.m.

From left to right, Student Task Force members from Canyon and Valencia high schools Laurent Abergel, Audrey Abergel, Kristopher Kaufman, Megan Scherich, Bob Haueter, deputy chief of staff for Congressman Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-Santa Clarita, Ruby Lawler, Mariah Mahotz, Amy Lopez and Student Task Force Adviser Nancy Medina.

Members of the Human Rights Watch Student Task Force, a student leadership training program, met with Congressman Howard “Buck” McKeon’s Deputy Chief of Staff, Bob Haueter, on Jan. 19 to discuss the Children’s Act for Responsible Employment, or CARE ACT.

The proposed law was introduced by Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard in 2009. If passed, the act would protect child farmworkers by amending the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938.

The U.S. government consistently ranks agriculture as one of the most hazardous jobs. On the farms, children are exposed to pesticide poisoning, heat-related illnesses, tool and machine related injuries and permanent disabilities, according to the Human Rights Watch. They suffer fatalities at four times the rate of youths working in other occupations, the organization has found.

Children employed in agriculture often work 12 or more hours a day for as little as $2 an hour, according to the organization, which has found children as young as 11 and 12 working 10 or more hours a day in the fields. Farms throughout the United States employ and abuse children, especially in California and the Midwest.

Many farms hide behind the guise of family-operated businesses; however, most have been taken over by major firms such as Sunkist or the Adkin Blue Ribbon Packing Company, according to the organization. Since child labor on family farms is considered chores, corporations have the freedom to neglect the rights of children.

This double standard permits child farmworkers to work at younger ages, for longer hours, and under more perilous conditions than other working youths, according to the Human Rights Watch.

Every occupation, excluding agriculture, is supposed to abide by child labor laws that establish a minimum age (14 years for “non-hazardous” employment), a maximum number of hours of work per week, safety precautions and restrictions on when youths can work.

In addition to protecting the rights of children, these laws ensure that academics take precedence over work. This educational priority contrasts drastically to that of youths working in agriculture, who have a shockingly low graduation rate of 55 percent, according to Human Rights Watch. This is a result of the need for young farmworkers to drop out of school in order to work longer hours and provide for their impoverished families, according to the organization.

The Children’s Act for Responsible Employment would repeal certain child labor law exemptions that lead to the abuse of youths working in agriculture, according to the act. It would apply the same age and hour requirements to children working on farms that already apply to all other working youths, according to language in the act.

The Valencia and Canyon High School Student Task Force members who met with Haueter — Laurent Abergel, Audrey Abergel, Amy Lopez, Kristopher Kaufman, Ruby Lawler, Mariah Mahotz and Megan Scherich — explained the importance of protecting children’s rights, without regard for occupation.

The students presented Haueter with petitions, consisting of 200 signatures of students, school administrators and other members of the Santa Clarita Valley community who support the CARE Act.

Haueter agreed that the neglect of child farmworkers is an issue that must be eradicated. His next step is to analyze the act and present it to McKeon, R-Santa Clarita, who will then determine his position. Sections of the act, such as the penalties issued to companies who violate the standards that the legislation establishes, may play a major role in McKeon’s decision process.

So far, 64 Democratic members of Congress have endorsed the legislation. The Student Task Force hopes that McKeon will take a leading role in the Republican Party by cosponsoring the CARE Act and prioritizing children’s rights.

For more information about the Santa Clarita Valley’s Student Task Force, visit or follow them on Twitter, and Facebook

Megan Scherich is co-president of the Student Task Force and a senior at Canyon High School.


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