Child Labor in Agriculture:

Characteristics and Legality of Work

HEHS-98-112R: Published: Mar 20, 1998. Publicly Released: Mar 24, 1998.

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Carlotta C. Joyner
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on child labor in agriculture, focusing on the: (1) extent and prevalence of children working in agriculture; (2) legislative protections available to children working in agriculture; and (3) enforcement of these laws as they apply to children working in agriculture.

GAO noted that: (1) limitations in available information make it difficult to provide precise estimates about the number of children working in agriculture or the conditions under which they are working--including the illnesses and injuries they may be experiencing; (2) available estimates on the number of children working suffer from methodological problems that likely result in an undercounting of the total number; (3) for example, nationally representative data do not include working children younger than 14; (4) an inadequate level of detail is available about children's hours of work or the tasks they perform, and injuries and illnesses may be underreported; (5) the best available nationally representative estimates indicate that on average, 155,000 15-to-17-year-olds may be working in agriculture, and as many as 300,000 may work in agriculture at some point during the year; (6) while the best available estimates show a lower injury rate for children working in agriculture than for those working in other industries, the injuries may be more severe, and the fatality rate is higher for children working in agriculture; (7) the Fair Labor Standards Act generally provides fewer protections for children working in agriculture than children working in other industries; (8) thus, children can legally work in agriculture under conditions that would be illegal in other work settings; (9) although enforcement agencies report few violations of labor laws involving children, these reported violations may not fully reflect the extent to which children are working illegally; (10) on the one hand, they may accurately reflect a low level of violations because fewer children may be working in agriculture now than in the past, and the less stringent legal protections mean that child labor in agriculture is more likely to be legal; and (11) on the other hand, the relatively low level of enforcement resources devoted to agriculture, the operational difficulties associated with enforcing key provisions of pertinent laws, and data systems that underreport violations involving children may mean that enforcement agencies may not be detecting or measuring the full extent of illegal child labor in agriculture.

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