'Kids at Work' finds new sweat shops


February 27, 1991|By Steve McKerrow

They provide "a large and easily exploitable work force" and "the bottom line is greed." Sadly, according to a disturbing new cable documentary premiering tonight, they are America's children.

Although many may think that child labor laws adopted some 50 years ago eliminated workplace exploitation of youngsters, "the horrors are back," maintains host Amy Irving at the top of "Danger: Kids At Work," which can be seen at 9 p.m. on the Lifetime basic-cable service. (Repeats are scheduled March 2, 5 and 9).

It is the latest in a series of generally provocative "Your Family Matters" specials on the network exploring family issues. And the show, produced by Pat Mitchell (a former host of WTTG's "Panorama" in Washington and the Group W "Hour Magazine") and Jacoba Atlas of VU Productions, makes a persuasive case.

"Sweat shops" once again exist, for example, in New York's garment trade, where young immigrants from Asia or Latin America work illegally. And in agricultural fields across the nation, poor migrant children pick crops, often exposing themselves to harmful pesticides.

Separate segments of "Kids at Work" examine both these settings, echoes of the past, where employers look the other way and there are not enough enforcers of protective laws to do the job. And even at that, says Irving, recent years have seen a 250 percent increase in child labor law violations.

Two other segments of the show seem like new problems, or at least new perceptions on older problems.

The first covers the dangers to children who work on family farms, a cultural tradition in America and a matter generally not covered by child labor laws. We hear tragic stories from several farm families in which deaths have occurred due to farm machinery, and a grieving Iowa mother talks about the organization she has started to address the dangers.

And the other segment explores the emerging phenomenon of teen-age children working part time. You find them in fast food joints, convenience stores and the like, often with parental support and a community perception that they are gaining maturity in the process.

Instead, the show presents cases where youthful workers lost limbs or were otherwise injured in workplace accidents. Further, it notes that work and school performance do not mix well.

"ACROSS THE POND" -- That's where trans-Atlantic sailors sometimes place England, and that's where humorist Mark Russell can be seen tonight. "Mark Russell's England," his first venture into foreign-soil satire (taped last summer), is at 10 p.m. on channels 22, 26, and 67.

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