Images expose the tough actuality of kid labor in america • The Berkeley Weblog


Archive photo of children living in a car.

Cherry harvest in Sunnyside, Wash., in 1982. (Picture by Ken Gentle)

This op-ed was first revealed right here within the Washington Submit on Could 8, 2023.

Current headlines about the widespread exploitation of youngsters in America’s workplaces shocked me, because it did many in our nation. It was all the more severe that the exploitation focused undocumented migrant youngsters who had just lately entered america, seemingly abetted by a Well being and Human Companies Division decided to clear unaccompanied youngsters from detention.

Maybe it shouldn’t have been a shock. As a documentary photographer of almost 5 a long time’ expertise, I witnessed equally merciless therapy firsthand within the late Seventies when photographing migrant employees within the agricultural fields all through america for my first guide, “With These Fingers.” This information story drew me to drag up movie contact sheets from the work I did all these a long time in the past.

A young onion picker in Rio Grande Valley, Tex., in 1979.

A younger onion picker in Rio Grande Valley, Tex., in 1979. (Picture by Ken Gentle)

Even then, what I used to be seeing within the fields had a lot older echoes. I discovered inspiration within the work of one among our nation’s most well-known social documentary photographers, Lewis Hine, who in 1908 grew to become the photographer for the Nationwide Little one Labor Committee (NCLC). Over the subsequent decade, Hine documented little one labor to help the NCLC’s lobbying efforts to finish the apply, photographing in coal mines, meatpacking homes, textile mills, canneries and plenty of different workplaces.

Hine’s pictures performed a major position in exposing the tough realities of kid labor in america throughout the early twentieth century. He needed to point out each what needed to be corrected and what needed to be appreciated — particularly, that our market full of products trusted arduous labor by among the nation’s smallest inhabitants. His images helped to go the primary federal little one labor legal guidelines within the nineteen-teens. In 1938, lastly, the Honest Labor Requirements Act set new requirements for the hours and circumstances below which youngsters may work.

A cherry picker in Sunnyside, Wash., in 1982.

A cherry picker in Sunnyside, Wash., in 1982. (Picture by Ken Gentle)

Once I began to {photograph} agriculture employees in 1979 and located youngsters as younger as 5 working within the fields, I used to be surprised. I had thought that Hine and his fellow social advocates had successfully eradicated little one labor. However now it was my flip to journey throughout America to doc this phenomenon.

I obtained up early within the morning to see youngsters working within the fields. Whole households had been choosing collectively as a result of there have been few child-care amenities and the household wanted the additional earnings to eat. Typically the kids had been swaddled in blankets half asleep as their dad and mom started work, then slowly joined in, choosing onions or tomatoes or strawberries or blueberries or different crops. These youngsters had been uncovered to pesticides and savage circumstances — warmth, lack of water and bathrooms, fixed bending — which can be a lot part of agriculture. I met a 7-year-old boy being paid 30 cents a bucket to select tomatoes in Leipsic, Ohio. As I raised my digicam, his eyes met mine. I may see his tiredness and his childhood being stolen by this tough labor.

I keep in mind exhibiting my images to editors at quite a few publications within the early Nineteen Eighties. “Oh, we all know that youngsters work within the fields,” some informed me. To many, it was not a sexy-enough story.

A 7-year-old boy is paid 30 cents a bucket to pick tomatoes in Leipsic, Ohio, in 1980.

A 7-year-old boy is paid 30 cents a bucket to select tomatoes in Leipsic, Ohio, in 1980. (Picture by Ken Gentle)

As we speak, if we present my images from greater than 40 years in the past alongside Hine’s work from greater than 100 years in the past, it’s not as a result of the phenomenon of kid labor in America is a brand new one. It’s as a result of it continues, typically with minimal penalties for the businesses that profit, bolstered by the efforts of a conservative advocacy group that’s actively making an attempt to roll again labor protections for youths. As Cesar Chavez wrote within the introduction to my guide: “Exploitation of farm employees and their youngsters is simply as actual at the moment because it was twenty years in the past. The struggle shouldn’t be over — it has simply been renewed. You see, time doesn’t heal injustice; solely folks do.”

Once I was photographing these younger youngsters at their work, I typically requested myself, the place was the empathy for them? A misplaced childhood is one thing that may by no means be regained. Whether or not in Hine’s period, in mine, or now, youngsters who work in these oppressive circumstances want witnesses — and ones who’re prepared to struggle on their behalf.


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