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Child Exploitation

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A few nights ago, some time near nine p.m, someone knocked on my door. Since I live in an apartment building with a locked front door, this was highly irregular. I was in my Betty Boop pj’s, my hair in a net and certain private aspects of my appearance unfit for human visitation. Naturally, I jumped. “Who’s there?”

“Your neighbor.”

Never let it be said that I am a bad neighbor. I freely lend sugar, never complain about noise, and always talk to toddlers and their mommies. The folks surrounding my apartment are similarly affable. I’m not about to alienate my neighbors, whose assistance I might need come the day of the Big One—so, leaving the chain across the door, I cracked it open. On the other side stood a chubby kid of 12 or so, in t-shirt and baggy shorts, clutching a clipboard. Breathlessly he launched into a prepared speech.


I never heard exactly what the camp was about, what he was trying to do, or who had sent him into the streets to ask strangers for money. Trying my best not to be overly rude, I told him it was too late at night for me, said goodbye and shut the door. In retrospect I wish I’d handled it differently—I wish I’d talked to the kid at least—but with my blood pressure soaring, I couldn’t think straight.

It sounds ridiculous, I know, that such a minor incident should affect my blood pressure—except, I don’t think it’s so minor. Aside from the annoyance of being disturbed late at night—for me it was late—I have a visceral reaction to children who’ve been sent out on such a mission. Bad enough I have to encounter these poor kids on the street, and in parking lots and supermarkets, selling candy or magazines for some indisputably worthy cause like textbooks or a trip to the museum. Every time I see one of these kids I want to throttle whichever grownup is responsible for the travesty. Children should not have to beg to go to camp or for school textbooks or trips. They should not have to raise money to receive a basic education.


Ironically, when I was a kid I was always inventing money-making schemes for me and my friends: selling greeting cards or hand woven pot holders, putting on theatrical plays for the people in our apartment complex. The big difference between my capitalist ventures and what the kid at my door was doing is that mine had neither sanction nor assistance from adults. All my enterprises were child-created, staffed and executed—and all the profits were divided among the kids, to do with as we chose. No candy company or camp corporate executive made a profit on our labor. No school salaries were funded with my potholders.

Most significantly, nobody put me up to this—my endeavors were entirely my own idea. Today’s organized campaigns to make kids raise money, on the other hand, are obviously engineered by adults lurking in the background, whether parents, teachers or corporate executives. There’s a name for this—it’s called child exploitation.

What if the kids don’t want to do it? What if they feel, as many certainly must, awkward and uncomfortable asking complete strangers for money? Tough. Like everything else about childhood, they’re powerless.

I read a newspaper story a few months ago about one of these fundraising campaigns, which everyone else on the planet apparently thinks is a good thing. Parents and teachers claimed that the project was teaching kids about “entrepreneurship.” Bullcrap! The kids aren’t learning anything of the kind. What they are learning is

1. Dependence—on “the kindness of strangers.”
2. Self-Effacement—and a host of other tricks that will elicit such “kindness.”
3. Humility–they have no innate right to whatever it is they’re raising money for, whether it’s textbooks, a trip to the museum or summer camp.
4. Rejection—from people slamming doors, not answering in the first place, or, on the street, pretending not to see them.
5. Good old ass-kissing—even if the answer is no, they’re invariably told to be “nice” to people. (like the street seller or beggar who blesses you even when ignored).

Come to think of it, sending kids out to ask strangers for money is probably brilliant training strategy for their future as U.S. citizens.


An Overview of Federal Child Labor Laws

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) establishes minimum wage, overtime pay, record keeping, and child labor standards affecting full-time and part-time workers in the private sector and in federal, state, and local governments. The FLSA’s child labor provisions are designed to protect the educational opportunities of minors and prohibit their employment in jobs and under conditions detrimental to their health or well-being.

The minimum age for employment is 14 years old. There are some exceptions such as newspaper delivery; performing in radio, television, movie, or theatrical productions; and work for parents in their solely owned nonfarm business (except in manufacturing or in hazardous jobs).

14- and 15-year-olds may be employed outside of school hours for a maximum of 3 hours per day and 18 hours per week when school is in session and a maximum of 8 hours per day and 40 hours per week when school is not in session. This age group is prohibited from working before 7 a.m. and after 7 p.m., except during summers when they may work until 9 p.m. (from June 1 through Labor Day). (Emphasis added)

The federal minimum wage is $5.15 per hour. Overtime pay at a rate of not less than one and one-half times their regular rates of pay is required after 40 hours of work in a workweek (except in some agricultural employment).

Youth Minimum Wage: A minimum wage of not less than $4.25 an hour is permitted for employees under 20 years of age during their first 90 consecutive calendar days of employment with an employer. Employers are prohibited from taking any action to displace employees in order to hire employees at the youth minimum wage. Also prohibited are partial displacements such as reducing employees’ hours, wages, or employment benefits.

Subminimum Wage Provisions: The FLSA provides for the employment of certain individuals at wage rates below the statutory minimum. Such individuals include student-learners (vocational education students). Such employment is permitted only under certificates issued by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division.

Note: This is not the complete text of the FSLA. Click here for the rest:


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