On May 14, Human Rights Watch issued Tobacco's Hidden Children -- a stunning report on child labor in the tobacco fields of North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia. Interviewing kids in the fields who ranged in age from 7 to 17, the organization's researchers compiled their dismal stories of backbreaking work, inadequate water and toilet facilities, and worst of all, the chronic illness brought on by poisoning from nicotine and pesticides.
What is most troubling is that almost all of the hardship and suffering inflicted on these children is legal, so long as they are above the age of 12.
Crouched under tall, wet tobacco plants in the scorching heat, the teenaged workers soon find out that summertime means constant nausea and vomiting, intense headaches, skin rashes and irritated eyes. It is hard to breathe, eat or even sleep, despite their exhaustion. Heat stroke is an everyday risk. Medical researchers believe that the long-term dangers include bladder cancer and heart disease, as well as damage to developing adolescent nervous systems from the neurotoxins in the pesticides so heavily used by tobacco growers.