Thursday, July 12, 2012

Child Labor on the Farm

Here's a piece on the hazards of having children work on the family farm.  As I often am, I'm of two minds.   One thing not emphasized in the article is a recognition of the hazards of farm work. Last I knew farming was one of the more hazardous occupations in the U.S.  Of course, there aren't many occupations other than farming where a child can reasonably make a contribution.  I suppose a family-owned grocery or restaurant would be another, but the point remains.

And what's the value to the child of having made a contribution?  I think it's great, though perhaps it's easy to romanticize.  The fact that I could drive tractor, carry feed bags, or clean hen houses didn't really build my confidence in dealing with strangers.  Still, it's better to know you're capable at something than not know whether you can do anything.

How good are parents at bringing children into farm work, as claimed by one person quoted?  It's easy to romanticize parents, but everyone has blind spots, and it's hard to resist the wishes of a child.  I might ask how good are parents at bringing children into driving cars?  I think everyone would agree there's a lot of variation. 

The article notes a big reduction in injuries in this century.  I wonder how much is the better job farmers are doing, and how much relates to the prosperity on the farms during the 2000's, meaning old equipment has been replaced by newer, safer equipment.  Look at the picture of the kid driving a 40-year old tractor.  There's no roll bar to protect the driver if the tractor flips backward--it's very scary when the front wheels start lifting off the ground, though I never flipped ours.

How protective do we want society to be?  I'm a firm believer in helmet laws for motorcyclists, and seat belt laws for drivers. I want off-road vehicles to be safe and regulated. And I support the child-labor laws of the last century. So I understand why people want to extend the laws, but at least today I think it's a bridge too far.  At least in some contexts I believe in tradeoffs, and in this case incurring a  few preventable accidents are the price I'm willing to pay for retaining child labor on the farm.

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