Financial News

  • 14 May 2014, 13:45

Children Aged 7 'At Risk' From Tobacco Work

Children as young as seven are working long hours in US fields harvesting tobacco in sometimes dangerous conditions, according to a report.

Those children regularly suffer from breathing problems, nausea and other ailments, said the study by Human Rights Watch.

The group urged both governments and the industry to take further steps to protect children from the hazardous harvesting - even when the work may be legal under US law.

Human Rights Watch interviewed 141 youths aged 7 to 17 working on tobacco farms in Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.

One 16-year-old worker said of their experience:"I didn't feel well, but I still kept working. I started throwing up."

The symptoms many youngsters reported are consistent with nicotine poisoning often called Green Tobacco Sickness, which occurs when workers absorb nicotine through their skin while handling tobacco plants.

The children also said they worked long hours - often in extreme heat - without overtime pay or sufficient breaks and wore no, or inadequate, protective gear.

Sometimes they reported earning less than minimum wage, which is $7.25 (4.16) nationally but varies by state.

Like other agricultural work, pesticide exposure and injuries are also concerns, the group said.

Margaret Wurth, children's rights researcher and co-author of the report, said: "The US has failed America's families by not meaningfully protecting child farm workers from dangers to their health and safety, including on tobacco farms.

"Farming is hard work anyway, but children working on tobacco farms get so sick that they throw up, get covered by pesticides and have no real protective gear."

By law, children cannot work on US farms during school hours, but they can work in the field at other times.

There is no accurate count of youths working in US tobacco fields. But work increases especially in the summer, when school is not in session and the tobacco crop season is at its peak.

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