Children in the fields: Young children picking our food

From the tobacco fields in North Carolina to the grape vineyards in California, thousands of children are working long hours in the filed, often in tough conditions, all to provide food on the table for Americans across the country.

NBC’s Bay Area investigative unit traveled to the fields across the country where they found dozens of children, many who were born and raised in the United States, who often started working in agriculture when they were 8 years old.

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, children who are as young as 12 years old are allowed to legally work in agriculture, a decision that advocates say is often encouraged by the children’s parents, who are trying to make ends meet.

“Children can work at any age on a small farm with their parents’ permission. It’s absolutely legal for a small farmer to hire a 6-year-old to pick blueberries,” said Zama Coursen-Neff of Human Rights Watch who authored a report that found a prevalence of child labor within agriculture fields across the US.

Advocates, legislators and the United States Department of Labor have proposed regulations that would restrict children from working in the fields, but they are often met by growers who say the proposed changes to the law would be “too restrictive for family farms.”

Owners like Pete Aeillo, owner of Uesugi Farms, Inc. in northern California, says he isn’t oppose to children working under certain conditions.

“I think that the current (agriculture labor) regulations as they are I think are good I think they are sound. I think it’s OK for kids that young to be working (in the fields.) (It depends) now on how many hours that they work,” said Aiello, who admitted there are other growers who often employ children who are often younger than 12 years old.

“I think Americans are largely clueless about the labor in general that supplies their food. And whether it’s their age or their ethnicity or their legal status or any of the above I think Americans are in the dark about what’s going on.”

Read more on the story and join the debate at NBC Bay Area.

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