(CBS News) – Just how dangerous is farm work for children? A new report by Human Rights Watch is drawing attention to the fact that children as young as seven years old are working under hazardous conditions on tobacco farms. But the study is also bringing new scrutiny to America’s labor laws, especially when it comes to the nation’s youngest workers.

The U.S. Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938 includes protections for youths 14 to 17 years old who enter the workforce. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 14-year-olds can be employed in specific, non-agricultural occupations, outside of school hours.

The minimum age for unlimited hours of employment in non-hazardous, non-agricultural jobs is 16, while 18 is the minimum age for people to work in non-agricultural positions defined as hazardous under federal labor law.

But it’s a different ball game when it comes to children and agricultural work. The FLSA lets children “of any age” work for their parents, or a person standing in for a parent, on a farm regardless of the job.


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