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Big Tobacco’s Secret Workforce: Child Farm Workers

Another reason to never ever smoke: tobacco is picked by children, who get poisoned in the process.

Big Tobacco's Secret Workforce: Child Farm Workers | ThinkProgress

Hundreds of children too young to buy cigarettes are working 60 hours a week on tobacco farms across the South, a new report from Human Rights Watch finds. Due to lax laws governing child labor in agriculture, child workers between the ages of 7 and 17 are regularly exposed to heavy doses of pesticides, nicotine, extreme heat, and operate heavy machinery.

Three-quarters of the 141 children interviewed by HRC said they had suffered symptoms of acute nicotine poisoning. One 16-year-old worker, Carla, recounted how she got sick while working in the tobacco plants: “I didn’t feel well, but I still kept working. I started throwing up. I was throwing up for like 10 minutes, just what I ate. I took a break for a few hours, and then I went back to work.”

Other children reported how pesticides were sprayed in the fields without any regard to who was working in them. Yanamaria, 14, told HRC that she was in the field during a pesticide spraying, saying, “I can stand the heat for a long time, but when they spray, then I start to feel woozy and tired. Sometimes it looks like everything is spinning.”

As HRC notes, child labor laws don’t apply to the agricultural sector, which allows children over 11 years old to legally work unlimited hours on farms with parental permission. About 258,800 children under 18 were officially hired to work on farms in 2012, about 20,000 more than in 2009. But children tend to be especially susceptible to pesticides and other medical risks found on farms.

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