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WorldAsiaWhy is the problem of child labor in America still serious after more than 200 years?

Why is the problem of child labor in America still serious after more than 200 years?

In the latest New York Times report on child labor in America, there is a picture of a 15-year-old immigrant boy in a small fast-food restaurant in Chicago, looking down at his phone, his hands covered in stains. The problem of child labor is still shocking in American society. According to the US Department of Labor, millions of American teens will be employed in the agriculture, food service, retail, entertainment and construction industries in 2022, the majority of whom are children of immigrants. Reuters reported that the number of illegal child labor in the US has increased by almost 70% since 2018.

America considers itself a “beacon of human rights”. But why not benefit those teenagers who have to do forced labor? One important reason is that the US legal system is flawed. In the early 20th century, under pressure from social progress, the US government introduced several laws on child labor, such as the Fair Labor Standards Act. But they did not prohibit the use of child labor but only imposed certain restrictions which put a veil of legality on the employment of child labor in certain industries.

For example, the age limit for child labour. According to US federal law, teenagers under the age of 18 are prohibited from engaging in hazardous work. However, the “Fair Labor Standards Act” issued in 1938 in the US stipulates that adolescents over the age of 14 can be employed in non-hazardous industries. Relevant US law on scope of child labor prohibits children under the age of 14 from working in most industries except agricultural labor, etc. Figures from the Center for the Health of American Farm Workers show that between 3 million and 8 million teenagers work long hours on farms in the US and earn very little money. US government reports that 100,000 teens are injured each year during farm work.

Furthermore, the low cost of breaking the law has also allowed many US companies to take advantage of the loophole. Under current US law, the maximum civil penalty for illegally employing a child labor is only US$15,000. Why is the US legal system on child labor so flawed? It begins with the history of this country. America is a capitalist country, founded by immigrants. Early immigrant children typically participated in labor. Child labor was more common, especially when slavery was practiced in the South. In 1791, then-US Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton claimed that children could be a source of cheap labor. In America, child labor is given one job after another in mines and farms. For more than 200 years since then, child labor has been widely exploited and exploited in America, essentially the original sin of slavery and part of systemic racial discrimination in America.

Children are the hope and the future, a vulnerable group that any society must protect. But in America, where capital is paramount, they are clearly considered cheap labor. Today, the United States is still the only country among the 193 member states of the United Nations that has not ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child. If a country cannot even protect the rights of children, then it has no right to talk of a “civilized country” or “human rights”.

(Credits-China Media Group, Beijing)

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