100 Years Later

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Over a half million children continue to work in fields in America today picking our food, exposed to hundreds of pesticides, without the protection of federal law.

These two images; a boy in a tobacco field and a row of children picking cabbages taken 100 years apart, provides a stark reminder of why children continue to need advocates to protect their interests and speak truth to power... and that's been my job at Media Voices for the past 15 years.

The five boys and three-year-old girl picking cabbages in 1915 are doing what's necessary to live and eat. So is the boy picking tobacco. His family needs money and so he leaves school to join them harvesting tobacco, even though it will make him sick and shorten his life.

These children have fallen through the cracks, a loophole in the 1939 federal labor law that outlawed all child labor in America, but exempted child labor on the family farm. In the 1950's, I joined my brothers picking peaches and apples on our grandfather's farm in Virginia, because we had to eat. But family farms today amount to less than 5% of the total farms in America and still children as young as 9 can work 14 hours a day – due to this loophole in our child labor laws.

How to change this? That's where Media Voices comes in.

When I travel to Washington I work with colleagues and organizations of the Child Labor Coalition, members of Congress and career professionals in federal agencies, to advise our government on how to eliminate child labor. In 2012, I was honored to receive the Iqbal Masih award for "extraordinary efforts to end the worst forms of child labor" from the Secretary of Labor, Hilda Solis. But an award, while encouraging, doesn't change the reality of these children's lives.

As I write this, the Environmental Protection Agency has proposed rules to roll back protections against pesticides in our food supply, an action that endangers our environment and risks the health and safety of two million people who harvest our food, including half a million children.

Media Voices has joined member organizations of the CLC in fighting these rule changes, sounding the alarm among the American public. We also support legislation to end child labor in America's fields. That's what I work on when I travel to Washington to lobby for children.

Children don't vote and can't afford high-priced lobbyists, so our voice matters now more than ever. I will continue to make these D.C. trips as long as I can and I'll keep you posted on what's happening at our web site, mediavoicesforchildren.org.

Please help me continue this work with a tax-deductible, end of year donation to Media Voices.