Child labor became illegal in 1938. Since then, age requirements, reduced hours, and other specifications were put into place to avoid child labor. Fines were also pushed if anyone or any company was found violating child labor laws.
On paper, it sounds great. However, as recently uncovered by Hannah Dreier, a journalist for the New York Times, child labor continues to exist. In 2023. In our backyard. To add insult to injury, a lot of the children being taken advantage of are migrant children who have made their way from countries in Latin America, but, largely from Central America.
During her investigation, Dreier traveled to Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, South Dakota, and Virginia to investigate the truth about child workers and the injustice they’ve been served.
In the past few years, the number of unaccompanied children entering the United States has been on a steady increase. Last year, for instance, the United States recorded that about 130,000 children entered the United States without their parents or any guardian. Of course, this is only what was recorded. There may be other children unaccounted for.
Still, the United States Department of Labor recently released a statement explaining how seriously they take exploitative child labor.
“Every child in this country, regardless of their circumstance, deserves protection and care as we would expect for our own child,” said Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra in an official statement.
“At Health and Human Services, we will continue to do our part to protect the safety and wellbeing of unaccompanied children by providing them appropriate care while they are in our custody; placing them in the custody of parents, relatives, and other appropriate sponsors after vetting; and conducting post-release services including safety and wellbeing calls. Everyone from employers to local law enforcement and civic leaders must do their part to protect children.”
Migrant children deserve better
A lot of these unaccompanied minors are sent to the United States out of pure necessity. Oftentimes, they are the reason their families back home get to eat and have shelter. However, many of these children come with the hope that things will be better – they are given a glimmer of hope by taking advantage of their naivety. They are even lured in by people posing to be well-meaning sponsors who promise a better life. But they quickly find out that these “sponsors” are often only motivated by the monetary gain a young worker can bring to the table. In other words, children from Latin America are being trafficked and forced to work so that they can provide for these so-called sponsors – aside from providing for their families.
Dreier spoke to Kevin Thomas, who started working at the age of 13 after arriving in Grand Rapids, about the situation. He recounted the challenges he faced as he tried to go to school and work long shifts.
“It’s not that we want to be working these jobs. It’s that we have to help our families,” Kevin told her.
This is heartbreaking.
Historically, calling the cops or reporting these incidents hasn’t done much. But this needs to change. And it needs to happen soon.
According to the New York Times, this research around migrant children and their exploitation was contributed by Andrew Fischer, Seamus Hughes, Michael H. Keller, and Julie Tate as well.