Uzbeks, Child Labor

The United States is witnessing a surge in child labor, exposing them to perilous working conditions.

Surge of illegally-employed children

Labor Department inspectors discovered a staggering 5,792 children working illegally, marking a 50% increase compared to the previous year and an alarming 470% surge since 2015. These violations have led to fines totaling over $8 million against offending employers.

Many of these young workers are migrants, escaping poverty and violence in Central America. They find themselves trapped in arduous and hazardous jobs. This summer alone, three 16-year-olds tragically lost their lives in industrial accidents. One was entangled in a conveyor belt at a Mississippi poultry plant, another got caught in machinery at a Wisconsin sawmill, and the third was crushed between a semi-truck and a trailer at a Missouri landfill. These grim incidents underscore the dire consequences of child labor in America.

The issue extends beyond industrial accidents. Earlier this year, a Wisconsin-based company was slapped with a hefty $1.5 million fine for employing over 100 children aged 13 to 17 in meat packing plants across the country. These young workers were tasked with cleaning bone saws, head splitters, and other equipment using caustic chemicals. Regulators have also unearthed cases of 10-year-olds working late shifts at a McDonald’s and an 11-year-old operating a forklift in a Kentucky warehouse.

Reasons for child labor to rise

Two significant factors are contributing to this grim reality. First, there is a shortage of adult workers, leading employers to turn to underage labor. Second, a sharp increase in unaccompanied migrant child arrivals, with more than 250,000 minors entering the U.S. over the past two years, is further exacerbating the issue.

Since 2008, federal law has allowed migrant children to reside with sponsors while their immigration cases proceed, aiming to prevent these vulnerable youngsters from being stranded in dangerous Mexican border towns.

Kevin Tomas, a former child laborer, emphasized, “It’s not that we want to be working these jobs; it’s that we have to help our families.”

The surge in child labor violations in the United States is an urgent and deeply concerning issue. As a nation, it is crucial to address the root causes of this problem, protect these vulnerable children, and provide them with the opportunity to break free from the cycle of illegal and hazardous employment.

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