With all the bad press that cigarette companies are getting in modern times, child labor being exploited does not seem that far out. What makes the reports so alarming is that this is happening right here in the U.S. in our own backyard. Children as young as seven are reported to be working in hot, hazardous conditions without protective gear, and suffering from the effects of nicotine poisoning.
Human Rights Watch has reported that little children are being used to cultivate pesticide-laced tobacco leaves. Surprisingly, this is somehow legal, but a push for safer work conditions is still being perused. It is difficult to believe that President Barack Obama needs to be asked to take action to ban hazardous child labor on American farms. It is shocking that those laws do not already exist.
These stunning reports describe how children who work exposed to the nicotine and other chemicals suffer from serious symptoms like vomiting, nausea, dizziness, skin rashes and difficulty breathing. Reports of these children working twelve-hour days with only one five-minute break and a half-hour lunch should stir the collective conscience.
Current laws prohibit children under 16 from performing hazardous farm jobs. The problem is that tobacco work is not specifically deemed hazardous. Child labor is being exploited on U.S. tobacco fields to increase profits, and many of the abuses have gone under the radar of health and safety regulators.
Most of the tobacco cultivated on American farms ends up in some of the best known brands, including Camel, Newport, Marlboro, Pall Mall and others. Many of these children are reported to be born to undocumented immigrants, though they themselves are American-born. Questions about why these children are not focusing on their education instead of working long hours in the fields conjures up deeper and more pressing issues.
Somewhere in the system, this setup of children doing manual labor for low pay is still sanctioned by the laws of the land. With all the issues that come up during elections, and the pressing desire to satisfy the left and appease the right, how this got missed for so long is a troubling thought. While we cannot govern other countrys’ child labor laws that closely, we should have a strong hold on our own.
The moral fabric of this country and the future of its success belongs to the children. Without an opportunity for them to get an education and to learn the skills necessary to join the advancing worldwide economy, a portion of our country will have its growth stunted.
In these modern times, it appears our technology has outgrown our morality. Discovering some of the biggest cigarette companies are linked to tobacco fields taking advantage of lax oversight and legislation loopholes to exploit children is a black eye for America. As the only superpower left, the moral high ground of the U.S. is in the spotlight at all times. This kind of revelation makes American humanitarian pleas around the world seem hollow, when children are being exploited right at home. They need to be protected, especially from powerful corporate entities who profit from their suffering, and if the lawmakers do not do that, shame on them.
Opinion by J. Benjamin