A recent spate of violations regarding the safety and welfare of migrant minors in high-risk industries has prompted the United States government to crack down on irregularities regarding child labor throughout the country.

During a conference call with the press on Monday, February 27th, the Biden Administration declared that it is investigating the employment of children at a number of firms, including several suppliers for carmaker Hyundai Motor and Hearthside Food Solutions. The Labor Department created an interagency task force regarding issues related to child labor; the task force seeks to probe industries wherein violations are most likely to occur.

A Concerning Increase in Violations

Since 2018, the Labor Department has seen a growth of almost 70% in child labor violations, especially in high-risk sectors like manufacturing and mining. Just this past fiscal year, investigators exposed 835 companies for violating child labor policies.

Under US federal law, individuals under the age of sixteen are barred from working in conventional factory settings, while anyone under eighteen is not allowed to work in hazardous occupations in heavy industry. However, many companies still find ways to circumvent these prohibitions, and many migrant children have fallen prey to the promise of earning for their families.

As a result, the Biden Administration is leading the call for heavier penalties for violators, as well as increased funding for enforcement and oversight measures. 

A Tall Order to Deliver

But this push for harsher punishments poses a serious challenge to the government in light of recent developments.

Just this month, a major food safety firm was penalized for hiring over 100 teenagers to work in dangerous positions at several meat packing plants scattered throughout eight states. The company is said to have paid around $1.5 million in penalties.

Also, immigration and social welfare authorities continue to struggle with preventing minors from falling into the clutches of unscrupulous recruiters working for big industrial facilities. Many of these have pushed children into occupations that pose serious risks to their lives and are considered dangerous even for adults.

It was further noted that many of the children being exploited by these recruiters were from poverty-stricken communities in Central America. Many of these children entered the United States unaccompanied by adults. While a number entered federal shelters and were later released to relatives or sponsors, even more, remain homeless and vulnerable.

Despite these challenges, the government is adamant about protecting their welfare and that of irregularly hired workers who come forward against abusive employers and practices violating employee welfare measures. Protective measures are also being considered for those participating in investigative activities involving their workplaces.