Child labor is the paid employment of children under 18 years of age. Today, more than 4 million children and adolescents in the United States are legally employed.1
Illegal child labor is also widespread and apparently has increased in frequency over the past decade. An estimated 1 to 2 million American children and adolescents are employed under unlawful, often exploitative conditions—working under age, for long hours, at less than minimum wage, on dangerous, prohibited machinery. Widespread employment of children in sweatshops—establishments that repeatedly violate fair labor as well as occupational health and safety standards—has been documented.2,3 Tens of thousands of children are employed in illegal farm labor. Detected violations of child labor laws increased fourfold from 1983 to 1989.4
Since 1938, child labor in the United States has been regulated under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).5 Under this Act, employment in any hazardous nonagricultural occupation is prohibited for all children less than 18 years old. No child under 18 may work in mining, logging, construction, on a motor vehicle, or with power-driven machinery. The Act imposes additional restrictions on the employment of children under age 16 and sets limits on the number of hours a child may work on school days (no more than 3 hours per day for 14- and 15-year-olds). In agriculture, where legal restrictions are much less stringent, work with power-driven equipment and hazardous pesticides is prohibited only until age 16, and all work on family farms is exempt from legal protection. Work permits are a central aspect of the administration of FLSA.
- Copyright © 1995 by the American Academy of Pediatrics