HRW: Child workers in danger on US tobacco farms
Children working on tobacco farms in the United States are exposed to nicotine, toxic pesticides, and other dangers which lead to injury and sickness, an international human rights organization says.
American children working in domestic tobacco fields regularly suffer from breathing problems, nausea, headaches, dizziness and other ailments, Human Rights Watch said in a report released Wednesday.
The New York-based rights advocacy group, which documented working conditions for children in four US states, said it found many children on tobacco farms were in direct contact with the plant's leaves, leading to serious ailments consistent with nicotine poisoning.
Many children also worked long hours without overtime pay, often in extreme heat without shade or sufficient breaks, and wore no, or inadequate, protective gear, the report noted.
The findings are based on interviews with 141 child tobacco workers, aging between 7 and 17.
“As the school year ends, children are heading into the tobacco fields, where they can’t avoid being exposed to dangerous nicotine, without smoking a single cigarette” said Margaret Wurth, children’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch and co-author of the report. “It’s no surprise the children exposed to poisons in the tobacco fields are getting sick.”
Children working in tobacco farms face other serious risks as well. They may use dangerous tools and machinery, lift heavy loads, and climb several stories without protection to hang tobacco in barns, the rights group said.
Hundreds of thousands of children work in the US farm industry, but no data is available on the number of children working in tobacco farming. Many children interviewed by Human Rights Watch described going to work on tobacco farms at age 11 or 12, primarily during the summer, to help support their families.
Ninety percent of US tobacco is grown in the four states of North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia. A 12-year-old boy in North Carolina described a headache he had while working: “It was horrible. It felt like there was something in my head trying to eat it.”