It is hard to believe that in the twenty-first century child labor would be a problem in the United States. Yet recent developments have demonstrated that this is indeed the case, and that there are elected officials in the United States who would like to expand its scope.
Just last month the nation’s conscience was rattled when the Department of Labor announced a $1.5 million fine for Packer Sanitation Services, which had employed more than 100 underage children cleaning equipment in some of the nation’s largest meatpacking facilities. At least most of us were rattled – apparently some were merely intrigued. A state legislator in Iowa proposed legalizing child labor in these dangerous packinghouses; a counterpart in Minnesota proposed lowering the age limit on work in construction, another highly hazardous industry. Last week Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed a bill into law making it easier for 14 and 15 year old children to work.
There should be no question where the Church stands on this. In 2021, the Vatican convened a conference on child labor. Pope Francis told the participants:
It is shocking and disturbing that in today’s economies, whose productive activities rely on technological innovations, so much so that we talk about the “fourth industrial revolution”, the employment of children in work activities persists in every part of the world. This endangers their health and their mental and physical well-being, and deprives them of the right to education and to live their childhood with joy and serenity. The pandemic has further aggravated the situation.
Children belong in school, not the packinghouse or construction site. Alongside Pope Francis, the Catholic Labor Network firmly opposes today’s renaissance of child labor.