Category Archives: Child Labor

India: 200 Children Rescued in Hyderabad Raids

Child laborers

Children walk through a mustard field carrying sacks of dried leaves near Gauriganj town in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh January 16, 2012. About 200 forced child laborers were rescued during raids in Hyderabad. Reuters

  @howardkoplowitz h.koplowitz@ibtimes.com

More than 200 child laborers were rescued by Indian authorities during early morning raids in Hyderabad that led to the arrests of 10 people, according to New Delhi-based television station NDTV.  The police were intending to target people with long criminal histories when they stumbled upon the children.

The children, as young as 6 years old, were from the states of Uttar Pradesh and Briar in northern India and were making bangles and leather products, according to NDTV. They were brought to Hyderabad after their captors paid their parents 20,000 rupees ($325.)

Some of the children had untreated wounds and were kept in filthy conditions. About 500 police participated in the raids. NDTV only identified one of the people arrested: Yasin Pehelwan.

A few girls were among the child laborers, according to NDTV editor Uma Sudhir. She tweeted that the children were kept in crowded rooms “like rats in holes.”

About 4.3 million children between the ages of 5 and 14 are believed to be working in India, according to a 2013 report by the U.S. Department of Labor. About 70 percent work in agriculture, another 17.5 percent perform industrial work like breaking stones and stitching soccer balls and 13 percent work in the services industry like tourism, construction and domestic service.

While forced child labor is illegal, India allows children under the age of 14 to work.

“Basic legal protections for children remain weak,” the U.S. Labor Department report found. “Legislation to prohibit work by children under the age of 14 and to proscribe hazardous work for children under 18 was introduced in Parliament in 2012 but has yet to be passed.”

 

Peace Prize recipient Kailash Satyarthi has long campaigned against child labor

During the three decades he has worked to free thousands of children laboring in dank mines and factories throughout India, Kailash Satyarthi has been shoved, kicked, threatened with deadly weapons and beaten numerous times.

His family hoped that he would cut back on child-trafficking raids when he turned 60, but just last month he directed the rescue of 23 children from a tiny basement factory in New Delhi. On Friday, the longtime advocate was sitting behind a desk at his small office in the capital when he learned from a journalist’s telephone call that he had won the Nobel Peace Prize. Satyarthi, the first Indian-born recipient of the honor, will share the award with Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani who became an education activist after the Taliban shot her on her way to school.

Satyarthi said it was a “great honor” and a “happy moment” for India, as well as for the children he had long worked to save. In a brief interview, he called for the “globalization of human compassion.”

“I am quite hopeful that this will help in giving greater visibility to the cause of children who are the most neglected and most deprived, and that this will also inspire the individuals, activists, governments, business houses and [corporations] to work hand-in-hand to fight it out,” he said. “The recognition of this issue will help in mobilizing bigger support for the cause.”

News of the award set off a raucous celebration at Satyarthi’s Bachpan Bachao Andolan (Save the Childhood Movement) office and a ripple of national pride throughout India.

The joy was tempered by critics who said they resented the Nobel Prize committee lumping India’s honoree with Pakistan’s, as if the adversarial nations were parties in an arranged marriage. Yousafzai later said that she and Satyarthi had spoken by phone and agreed that they would invite their respective prime ministers to the awards ceremony in Oslo.

Experts predicted that Satyarthi’s long-shot honor — he was chosen over favorites including Pope Francis — would probably focus attention not on geopolitical affairs but India’s still-endemic problem of child labor.

In India, children are not allowed to work in industrial jobs or other hazardous fields, but an estimated 50 million still toil in industries that make fireworks, carpets, bangles and bricks. A law banning all labor for children under 14 is still languishing in Parliament. Denizens of India’s rising middle class have been known to hire underage nannies or domestic servants.

“Indians have accepted these practices over the years, but we hope that this prize will prick their conscience, too,” said Swami Agnivesh, chairman of the Bonded Labor Liberation Front and an early mentor of Satyarthi’s.

Satyarthi is an iconoclast, fighting against widespread social tolerance for child labor in India, where many argue that the children would die of hunger if they did not have jobs. He insisted that the children he rescued attend school even as other charities were giving after-school classes for laborers, in a tacit approval of the system.

“His philosophy is that every child should be in school notwithstanding his economic background. He has rejected the theory that poverty drives child labor,” said Bupinder Zutshi, who co-authored the book “Globalization, Development and Child Rights” with Satyarthi in 2006.

Growing up in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, Satyarthi has said that he became aware of India’s socially stratified society at age 6, when he noticed a cobbler’s son working every day as he was on his way to school. He asked the cobbler why the son wasn’t in class, and the man told him that he and his son had been born solely to work, Satyarthi recalled in a 2004 interview with The Washington Post.

“The seed was sown that very day,” Satyarthi said.

Satyarthi was born a Brahmin, the highest caste in India’s hierarchical system. In a society in which family names often designate caste, he gave up his true name early on, according to his daughter, Asmita, 29, a business student. He adopted the more neutral Kailash Satyarthi instead, and gave her only one name.

He gave up an engineering career for activism in his 20s and founded Bachpan Bachao Andolan in 1983. He rose to prominence in the 1990s, when he would swoop down on far-flung villages in eastern India — known as the country’s carpet-making belt – for surprise raids on dimly lit basements where children squatted on the floor, working on looms. The children lived with the loom owners and worked for hours for small payments that were sent home to their parents. The rescues, while high-profile and hyped by the local media, were not always successful. Sometimes the poverty-stricken parents preferred their children to be working than in school.

During the 1990s, Satyarthi was instrumental in convincing many European countries to boycott Indian carpets made with child labor. He developed a self-certification label for South Asian carpets headed for export that said they were made without of child labor. In 1994, the certification trademark was called Rugmark; it is now GoodWeave International.

Satyarthi he has received numerous international honors over the years, including the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award. Yet in India he has received far fewer laurels. He was also accused by many nationalists and others of working against Indian interests, especially in the essential export industry, and of showing the country in a poor light.

“It’s a big moment for us,” said his wife, Sumedha Kailash, 59, who runs a rehabilitation center for rescued children in Jaipur. The couple’s son, Bhuwan Ribhu, 35, a lawyer, also works for the nonprofit center. Its narrow halls are often crowded with anguished parents clutching photos of their missing children. But on Friday, they were filled with jubilant supporters passing out sweets.

Jalees Andrabi contributed to this report.

India Child-Labor Ban Led to Poorer Families, More Children Working

Child Laborer

A ban on child labor sounds like a policy move that would yield nothing but favorable results. But a new paper on the fallout from such a measure in India finds that isn’t the case.

SARANYA KAPUR

Child labor has a dark history around the world.

But banning child labor outright may not work in countries with systemic, widespread poverty and no social security programs to help out poor families in dire straits.

This is according to a new NBER study by Prashant Bharadwaj of UCSD, Leah Lakdawal of Michigan State University and Nicholas Li of the University of Toronto.

The study uses data from India, a country where the problem of child labor is particularly egregious. According to official estimates, the number of child laborers between the ages of 5 and 14 lay at nearly 5 million in 2010.  In 1986, India instituted a ban on child labor through the Child Labor (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, which sought to ban children under the age of 14 being employed in “hazardous” occupations, which included construction work, some factory work and work in automobile garages. It also restricted the number of hours children could work in “non-hazardous” occupations, such as food service.

The ban’s intended effect was to make it riskier, and hence more costly for employers to employ child labor.

But the only people sending their children out to work were the poorest and most desperate families who had no other means of reaching a minimum level of subsistence. Employers took advantage of this desperation and responded by cutting the wages they would pay a child laborer as a means of passing on the higher cost of the risk of employing them.  Families that would earlier have sent only one of their children to work, were now forced to send more of their young children into the workforce. The fall in child wages due to the ban actually led to an increase in child labor.

The research found that child labor increased 12.5% over the pre-ban average, and the likelihood of a business employing a child versus employing an older person increased by 1.7 to 1.9 percentage points.

Additionally, for the households most affected by the ban, there was a nearly one-to-one correlation with a reduction in the schooling their children received.

However, the paper only looks at the immediate impact of the ban on child labor and not the long-term benefits. Since 1981, when child labor stood at over 13 million, the number has now fallen to 5 million.

Read the whole paper at NBER.org.

Child Labor Ban

Children Working in American Tobacco Fields

Young farm workers are falling ill from “green tobacco sickness” while the industry denies it and government lets it happen.

Young farm workers are falling ill from “green tobacco sickness” while the industry denies it and government lets it happen.

Gabriel Thompson

The air was heavy and humid on the morning the three Cuello sisters joined their mother in the tobacco fields. The girls were dressed in jeans and long-sleeve shirts, carried burritos wrapped in aluminum foil, and had no idea what they were getting themselves into. “It was our first real job,” says Neftali, the youngest. She was 12 at the time. The middle sister, Kimberly, was 13. Yesenia was 14.

Their mother wasn’t happy for the company. After growing up in Mexico, she hadn’t crossed the border so that her kids could become farmworkers. But the girls knew their mom was struggling. She had left her husband and was supporting the family on the minimum wage. If her girls worked in the tobacco fields, it would quadruple the family’s summer earnings. “My mom tends to everybody,” Neftali says. This was a chance to repay that debt.

The sisters trudged into dense rows of bright green tobacco plants. Their task was to tear off flowers and remove small shoots from the stalks, a process called “topping and suckering.” They walked the rows, reaching deep into the wet leaves, and before long their clothes were soaked in the early morning dew. None of them knew that the dew represented a health hazard: when wet, tobacco leaves excrete nicotine, which is absorbed by the skin. One study estimated that on a humid day—and virtually every summer day in North Carolina is humid—a tobacco worker can be exposed to the nicotine equivalent of thirty-six cigarettes.

Their mother told the girls to stick together, but Neftali soon fell behind. “I was seeing little circles, and the sky started to get blurry,” she says. “It felt like my head was turned sideways.” Her mother ordered her to rest in the shade, but Neftali sat down only briefly. “I wanted to show that I could work like an adult,” she recalls. She soldiered on through a splitting headache and waves of dizziness. Several times, about to faint, she sank to the ground between rows to rest.

“I would find her looking confused,” Yesenia says.

Later in the day, Neftali heard someone retching. One row over, Kimberly was bent double, throwing up on the plants. Afterward, feeling slightly better, Kimberly resumed work, only to throw up again. When the twelve-hour shift finally came to an end, the sisters trudged back to their car. Neftali fell asleep on the short drive home, but that night, despite her fatigue, she was woken several times by the same dream: she was back in the tobacco fields, stumbling around in a daze, surrounded by suffocating plants.

The next morning, ignoring their mother’s pleas, the sisters went back for more. In all, the girls would spend four summers in the tobacco fields, working sixty hours during a typical week, their earnings usually $7.25 an hour. For many teens, memories of summer include a nostalgic mix of freedom and boredom, with lazy afternoons spent doing next to nothing. But the Cuello sisters mostly remember feeling exhausted, dizzy and nauseated. Only later would they learn why: the fields were poisoning them.

* * *

Tar from the tobacco leaves stains the hands of young workers.

On a steamy July afternoon, Neftali and Yesenia are seated on a teal couch in Melissa Bailey’s double-wide trailer. “Miss Melissa,” as she’s known in these parts, lives in the heart of tobacco country, along a rural stretch outside Kinston, a town of 22,000 in eastern North Carolina. A rooster crows nearby and clouds gather in the distance, promising relief after days of scorching heat. Neftali, about to start her senior year of high school, runs her fingers through bangs she recently dyed red. “It’s hard to explain what it’s like to work in tobacco,” she says, scrunching up her face. “It’s just horrible.” She shows me a photo taken of her in the fields; her hands are black with tar.

“OK, let’s get started,” calls Bailey. At 43, her sparkling eyes and easy laugh don’t quite conceal the stress of a lifetime spent juggling emergencies. She recently lent her van to a homeless family and is now collecting food donations for a migrant family with eight children. Meanwhile, Bailey is struggling to hold together NC Field, a scrappy nonprofit she co-founded in 2010. Young farmworkers face a workplace fatality rate four times that of children in other industries, and Bailey’s goal is to move kids into less dangerous work. It’s a job with long hours and long odds. Many parents depend upon their children working just to get by.

Today, only four kids show up. “It’s really hard to keep things together in the summer,” Bailey tells me. “Everyone’s working tobacco.”

From a “hillbilly mining family” in West Virginia, Bailey moved to North Carolina in 2001 and soon got a job enrolling the children of migrant laborers in school. The hard edges that characterize life for North Carolina’s 90,000 migrant farmworkers felt familiar. Bailey’s grandfather entered the mines at age 12 and died at 32 in 1949 from a methane explosion; her grandmother, who helped raise Bailey, was evicted from company housing after the accident. When Bailey was a toddler, a coal company dam burst, killing several other relatives. Like many of her peers, she got married and had a child right after high school and spent most of her 20s getting by on welfare.

Still, she was surprised to discover that child labor was still legal in the fields; the more she learned about the hazards of tobacco, the less those fields seemed like a place for kids. A 2001 study found that one in four tobacco workers suffers from acute nicotine poisoning, or “green tobacco sickness.” Symptoms range from dizziness and vomiting to difficulty breathing and heart rate fluctuations requiring hospitalization. The pain can be so excruciating that some workers call it the “green monster.” A tobacco farmer in Kentucky said the sickness “can make you feel like you’re going to die,” a phrase I’ll hear others repeat.

These hazards have led countries like Russia and Kazakhstan to ban anyone under 18 from harvesting tobacco. The United States has played a role in such global efforts, recently spending at least $2.75 million to eliminate child tobacco labor in Malawi. But no such prohibition exists here. “Why do we ban cigarettes to minors,” Bailey asks me, “but somehow it’s perfectly OK to have 12-year-olds getting nicotine poisoning in the fields?”

Underage laborers blackened with coal dust at Bessie Mine in Alabama, 1910

It’s long been understood that some jobs should be off limits to kids. More than a century ago, Lewis Hine of the National Child Labor Committee traveled to the coal mines of eastern Pennsylvania, where he found children as young as 10 laboring underground. “[T]he air at times is dense with coal dust,” he wrote, “which penetrates so far into the passages of the lungs that for long periods after the boy leaves the breaker, he continues to cough up the black coal dust.”

Although he carried a notebook, Hine’s real weapon was his camera. One of his photos captured a man with a metal pipe towering over the boys, ready to strike any who disobeyed. His intimate shots of young miners, with their hardened faces and sunken eyes, made the “breaker boys” an icon in the fight against child labor.

The photos caused an uproar, but it wasn’t until 1938 that Congress finally passed the Fair Labor Standards Act. Along with establishing a minimum wage and overtime pay, the FLSA banned “oppressive child labor,” preventing youth under 18 from working in mines and factories. The FLSA was a seminal achievement, but it has significant loopholes. Influenced by racist Southern politicians, who argued in the 1930s that “you cannot put the Negro and the white man on the same basis,” the law left out minimum wage and overtime protections for agricultural and domestic workers—the industries that employed the majority of African-Americans at the time.

Children topping and suckering tobacco plants in Buckland, Connecticut, at the turn of the twentieth century

Child labor standards, too, are considerably weaker in agriculture, where children—then mostly black, now mostly brown—can begin work at the age of 12. Limits on work hours, put in place to ensure that jobs don’t interfere with study, are more permissive for field workers. A tobacco grower who hires a 12-year-old to work seventy-hour weeks in the summer is well within the letter of the law.

No one knows how many children work in America’s tobacco fields each summer, helping to bring in our nation’s deadliest crop. When I put the question to Larry Wooten, president of the North Carolina Farm Bureau, he wasn’t willing to concede that such a workforce even exists. “It’s hocus-pocus,” he said. “I couldn’t drive you to a farm this afternoon in North Carolina where anyone under 16 is harvesting tobacco, unless it was the farmer’s children driving a tractor.”

Wooten is wrong. I spent a week driving down winding back roads and visiting remote labor camps, where I found more than a dozen tobacco workers under the age of 16.

And when I joined a tobacco crew, I happened upon a 15-year-old from Guatemala with two friends who looked even younger. But no one tracks these kids, and growers aren’t anxious to discuss the topic. When I reached out to the Tobacco Growers Association of North Carolina, they first wanted an assurance that I would convey a “positive message”; when I declined that condition, I didn’t hear back. A spokesman from R.J. Reynolds told me that the company’s farmers abide by “all applicable laws,” but said he had no idea how many minors might be working in grower-contracted fields. But North Carolina, where Bailey does outreach to more than 100 child tobacco workers every year, accounts for 80 percent of the flue-cured tobacco grown in the United States, the most popular variety found in cigarettes. Two of the big three US tobacco companies—R.J. Reynolds (Camel) and Lorillard (Newport)—are headquartered in the state.

Wooten didn’t challenge the idea that tobacco workers can get sick from nicotine, telling me that he worked in the fields as a kid and would throw up when the leaves were wet. But he downplayed it: “Take a 10-year-old boy and give him two cigars and it’s the same thing.”

Scientists first started to take nicotine poisoning seriously in 1992, when Kentucky began to monitor hospital visits by farmworkers. During a two-month period, emergency rooms in five counties admitted forty-seven people who complained of vomiting, abdominal pain, dizziness and difficulty breathing. Twelve required hospitalization, and two were placed in intensive care. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health issued an advisory, putting the likely number of ER visits statewide at 600. “If the numbers found in Kentucky are any indication of the magnitude of this problem, then we are dealing with an illness which is inflicting a tremendous burden on this nation,” said Dr. J. Donald Millar, then director of NIOSH.

Nicotine poisoning makes the flu seem like a cakewalk. “You start out feeling dizzy,” says a woman I’ll call Martha, whom I visit one warm summer evening after she’s finished a shift in the tobacco fields. “Then come the headaches, and suddenly you start throwing up and can’t stop.” Martha often hallucinates during bad episodes, with the objects in her trailer growing so large that she fears they’ll topple over and smash her.

I swing by Martha’s trailer again a few days later. It’s immediately obvious something’s not right. Her skin is pale, and she struggles to keep her balance as she leans against the stove, cooking tortillas for her two children, who race around the cramped living room. Three days ago, she worked in a wet field, growing dizzy and nauseous on the ride home. She’s spent the last forty-eight hours in bed or stumbling to the toilet to vomit, popping Tylenol like candy to mute her unbearable headache. “I feel so weak, it’s like my entire body is asleep or drunk,” she says. Yet she plans to be in the fields tomorrow. She can’t afford another day without pay.

* * *

The surest way to prevent nicotine poisoning is to keep workers out of wet fields. Wearing waterproof clothing and gloves can help, but such outfits can also be an invitation to heat stroke. Martha tells me that her contractor doesn’t let the crew wear gloves because he fears they’ll damage the plants. Other growers, according to a study led by Thomas Arcury of the Wake Forest University School of Medicine, advise their crews to start smoking in order to build up a tolerance.

Even workers who don’t develop acute poisoning absorb dangerous amounts of nicotine. Researchers at Wake Forest took saliva samples and found that by the end of a season, “non-smoking workers had nicotine levels equivalent to regular smokers.” Nicotine has been associated with bladder cancer and has been found to increase the size of other tumors. Last year, researchers at Brown University found that it may also increase the risk of heart disease.

Pesticides pose another threat. Many pesticides sprayed on tobacco are used on other crops, but tobacco requires an especially heavy application. Only five crops use more pesticides per acre. Thanks to a 2009 study by Wake Forest and the Centers for Disease Control, we know those pesticides are getting into the bodies of workers. Urine, blood and saliva samples taken from North Carolina farmworkers, most of whom worked in tobacco, found repeated exposure to six types of organophosphates—a common pesticide used on food crops and tobacco, and a neurotoxin.

“With pesticides, there is no safe level of exposure,” says Dr. Jennie McLaurin, a specialist in children’s health with the Migrant Clinicians Network. To protect workers from pesticides, the Environmental Protection Agency mandates that they stay out of fields for a period of time after spraying. While the EPA insists these standards “are protective of all workers, regardless of size,” the guidelines are based on an adult farmworker who weighs 176 pounds. McLaurin suggests there are special dangers to adolescents because they are smaller. Also, their livers and kidneys aren’t as proficient at excreting toxins, and their nervous systems are still developing. “Anything you throw at a kid,” she says, “whether Tylenol or pesticides, is going to have a higher effective dose.”

* * *

In the summer of 2009, Bailey invited several dozen young farmworkers—including kids working in tobacco—to sit down with a researcher from Human Rights Watch. The following spring, HRW released “Fields of Peril: Child Labor in US Agriculture,” based in part on these interviews. The report, which included detailed descriptions of acute nicotine poisoning, was praised by then–Labor Secretary Hilda Solis. “We simply cannot—and this administration will not—stand by while youngsters working on farms are robbed of their childhood,” she promised.

Solis has long displayed a special affinity for farmworkers. Her father came to this country from Mexico to work in the fields, and she renamed the Labor Department’s auditorium after Cesar Chavez, co-founder of the United Farm Workers. In praising the report, she said her agency was currently “exploring regulatory changes to further protect children in the fields.” It turned out she was referring to a clause in the FLSA that gives the Labor Department the power to ban children from particularly dangerous work by issuing what are called “hazardous occupations orders.” (Although, in yet another example of the FLSA’s weaker protections in agriculture, field hands may perform “hazardous” jobs once they turn 16, while kids in other industries must wait until they’re 18.)

Those orders hadn’t been updated in agriculture since 1970. During the Bush years, NIOSH, an arm of the Centers for Disease Control, published a list of recommended changes, but they’d languished until Solis took office. In August 2011, the Labor Department proposed a sweeping set of updates to the hazardous occupations orders. They included a ban on hiring children to do work in grain silos, which can swallow workers like quicksand; to handle pesticides that pose long-term health risks; or to work at heights above six feet. They also included a requirement that tractors, the most common cause of death for young workers, be equipped with seat belts and rollover protections.

And they prohibited children working in tobacco.

In introducing the proposals, Solis struck an urgent tone. “Children employed in agriculture are some of the most vulnerable workers in America,” she said. “Ensuring their welfare is a priority of the department.” The official in charge of drafting the proposed rules, Nancy Leppink, recalled a traumatic episode in which a tractor killed a friend’s brother. “I have thought of her and him often as my staff has worked on the regulations,” Leppink wrote on the Labor Department’s blog. “No sister wants to bury her younger brother.”

These weren’t bureaucrats. These were people on a mission.

* * *

In early 2011, before the Labor Department unveiled its child farmworker proposals, Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau, stood before a large crowd in Atlanta. “We face challenges from regulators who are ready to downsize American agriculture, mothball our productivity and outsource our farms,” he warned. Government overreach, he said, presented a “clear and present danger to American agriculture.”

Stallman is at the helm of one of the most powerful forces in US agriculture. While the Farm Bureau bills itself as the voice of family farmers and ranchers, its anti-regulatory agenda often reflects the interests of agribusiness giants instead. It fights against labeling GMOs, wants to ease restrictions on the spraying of pesticides over waterways, and sued the EPA for trying to clean up the agricultural runoff that turned large parts of the Chesapeake Bay into dead zones. Board members of Farm Bureau affiliates include representatives from industry powerhouses like Monsanto, DuPont and Archer Daniels Midland.

Seven months later, when the Labor Department proposals were announced, Stallman had a new target in his sights. The bureau trained its firepower, including forty lobbyists and $5 million a year in political spending, on stopping the new hazardous occupations rules in their tracks. It launched a national letter-writing campaign and formed a coalition of agricultural trade groups. The resistance grew to include Monsanto and the national trade groups representing pork, turkey, beef, dairy, cotton and rice producers.

When labor advocates hit Capitol Hill, as one recounted to me, they realized the Farm Bureau had beaten them to the punch.

The main argument against the rules was that they’d hurt family farms. “That’s why we opposed the rules,” says Mace Thornton, a Farm Bureau spokesman. “They would have impacted farm kids and their ability to be a part of the family farm or ranch.” In a letter to the agency, the Farm Bureau and its allies asked the Labor Department to withdraw the rules to allow “family farms to continue to operate as they have for generations.”

That the rules would be a blow to struggling family farms held tremendous narrative power. The only problem: it just wasn’t true. No child labor laws, including these, apply to family farms, or to the estimated half a million children who work on them. They cover only the 300,000 or so children who work as hired hands.

True, early on, the draft language said the exemption would cover only farms “wholly owned” by parents. But after the Farm Bureau protested, arguing that family farms are now often joint partnerships, the Labor Department made a fix, expanding the exemption to cover farms owned even partially by a parent.

But the “family farm” narrative had taken root. A month after the fix, members of Congress in both chambers introduced the Preserving America’s Family Farm Act to block the Labor Department from enforcing the rules. Among the key forces behind the lobbying push was agribusiness giant Monsanto.

A key opponent in the House was Denny Rehberg, a Montana Republican who sat on the House Appropriations Committee. During a House hearing, he threatened to attach a budget rider stripping the Labor Department of the funds needed to enforce the rules. A multimillionaire rancher, Rehberg said he’d once hired a 10-year-old to herd his flock of cashmere goats. It was “impossible” to get hurt on his ranch, he said, claiming that a 5-year-old could safely run the entire operation. Others piled on. A Daily Caller article claimed the rules banned “farm chores.” Sarah Palin wrote that Obama was trying to “prevent children from working on our own family farms.”

“In the beginning, I thought people really were confused,” says Mary Miller, a child labor specialist with Washington State’s Department of Labor and Industries. “But it was just a big disinformation campaign.” Even members of Congress refused to absorb the fact that the new rules would leave family farms alone. During that same House hearing, Representative Roscoe Bartlett, a Tea Party Caucus member from Maryland, had the following exchange with the Labor Department’s Leppink:

Bartlett: How old does a child have to be before they can drive a tractor?

Leppink: On their parents’ farm?

Bartlett: Yeah.

Leppink: Zero.

Bartlett: OK.

Leppink: They can drive the tractor on their parents’ farm at any age.

Bartlett: My time is running out. I just have a real problem with our regulations.

* * *

I’m only hours into the shift, but sweat and dew have already soaked through my long-sleeve shirt and jeans. I reach between tobacco leaves to tear off another sucker and straighten up to wipe my face, the black tar from my hands leaving a sticky residue on my forehead. Ahead in the distance, I can make out several other members of the crew, who push forward between the rows before disappearing behind walls of tobacco leaves. I’ll be playing catch-up all day.

I’m in the middle of a tobacco field in Wilson County, but that’s as much as I know about my location. Yesterday afternoon, I pulled up to a field and spotted a crew in the distance, their heads bobbing above the plants like buoys in a green sea. I eventually found the person in charge, a squat man named Alejandro. “If you want to work, show up at 5:30 tomorrow morning,” he said in Spanish, giving me directions to a parking lot. When I arrived in the morning, I found dozens of Latino workers sleepily climbing into idling vehicles. I asked for Alejandro and was pointed to a white passenger van, where I squeezed into the back seat between two large men. One, wearing a flannel shirt and tattered straw hat, offered me a slice of cantaloupe. “Bienvenidos,” he said, before closing his eyes and leaning his head against the window. Welcome.

We pulled out of the lot and headed north, turning left onto a dirt road and zigzagging over a series of trails that became progressively bumpier. It was still dark, and I soon lost any sense of direction. By the time the van stopped, the sky had begun to lighten, and I could see that we were surrounded on all sides by tobacco. Alejandro came hustling over.

“The work is easy,” he said. Like the Cuello sisters, we would be topping and suckering, the last step before the leaves are picked and hung in barns to dry. I shadowed him as he moved down the row, tugging off shoots.

“The important thing is to look up and down the entire plant,” he told me. “Suckers can be everywhere.” Then he jogged ahead to check in with the other crew members. Several had donned plastic trash bags in an attempt to protect their skin from the dew.

Though the crew quickly leaves me behind, it doesn’t take long for me to get the basic idea down. But I soon find out that what the task doesn’t require in skill, it makes up for in pain. My back aches with the constant bending, but the heat and humidity deliver the real punishment. The leaves of the head-high plants reach across the rows, trapping the air and stifling any breeze. Stooped beneath that arch, with the leaves reflecting the sun’s rays, I can feel my brain start to overheat, turning the sharp edges of life fuzzy.

I stumble on the uneven rows and trip twice before the morning break, though it’s hard to say if it’s the nicotine or the heat that’s causing my dizziness. I join a line that’s formed in front of the water coolers. “You look hot,” a shirtless man in front of me says, letting out a squeaky laugh. “This is nothing.” When he gets to the cooler, he soaks a rag in water and wipes down his stomach, arms and back, which are crisscrossed with red welts. “Pica el spray,” he says—the pesticides sting his skin. He’s not the only one whose back is lined with streaks.

After drinking up, we sit in the shade of the van. A number of the men are curious about my presence and come over to chat. I ask whether they’ve gotten sick from nicotine. Javier, a thirtysomething Mexican immigrant who previously sold ice cream from a cart in Austin, nods. “Of course. It’s a poison, but it’s not a real problem. You get sick for two days and throw up. Then you feel better and come back to work.”

Another man jumps in. “You don’t have to go home. If you feel sick, walk to the side and throw up. And when you feel dizzy, drink milk.”

“Not milk—suck lemons!” yells a bearded man still wearing a trash bag over his shirt. “Throw up, then suck lemons.” If the workers in my crew are any indication, a lot of throwing up goes on in the fields.

I notice three younger workers standing apart from the group. I walk over to chat with one of them, whose boyish face is shaded by a red-and-white North Carolina State cap, and learn that he is 15 and from Guatemala. Our conversation is interrupted by a call to return to the fields.

Tobacco leaves are loaded into crates for curing and drying.

The rest of the day is a blur. We break thirty minutes for a lunch eaten in silence—no one’s joking about the heat anymore—and by afternoon, all signs of urgency have disappeared. Even Alejandro is encouraging us to take it slow, and after each row we return to the van to pour cold water over our heads for a moment of delicious relief. The air has taken on the heaviness and temperature of exhaust, and despite my sluggish pace, I can barely catch my breath. It feels like I’m sucking through a straw stuffed with moss. Finally, a new supervisor arrives and tells us to pack up. “It’s too hot,” he says. “Day’s over.”

It’s 5:45 pm when I get back to my motel, having earned $65.25 for nine hours of work. My head has been pounding for hours, so I take Advil and drink two large cups of water. There’s a severe heat advisory in effect: it’s 95 degrees, with a heat index of 111. It’s no surprise that North Carolina farmworkers suffer the highest rate of heat-related fatalities in the nation.

In the spring of 2012, as the battle over the child labor rules reached fever pitch, Neftali and Yesenia boarded a plane and flew from Raleigh to Washington, DC, for a conference on young farmworkers. The event, organized by the Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs, included youth-led panels and workshops, with participants creating plaques to recognize the efforts of Labor Secretary Solis and Representative Lucille Roybal-Allard, who introduced legislation in the House to increase the protections for young farmworkers.

Roybal-Allard came to accept her award on the first day of the conference. Solis, however, never showed. The reason for her absence soon became clear. That afternoon, the Labor Department quietly issued a press release announcing that it had withdrawn the proposed changes, citing the administration’s firm commitment “to promoting family farmers and respecting the rural way of life.”

The retreat was absolute. “To be clear,” the statement continued, “this regulation will not be pursued for the duration of the Obama administration.” Instead, the Labor Department would be working with “rural stakeholders” to “develop an educational program.” The first “stakeholder” listed was the American Farm Bureau. Not a single group advocating for migrant youth was named.

The dramatic about-face left public health advocates reeling. “I’ve been following worker safety and health for twenty years,” says Celeste Monforton, a professor at the George Washington School of Public Health and a former OSHA analyst. “I have never seen anything like that statement. It was a sucker punch. It ran completely counter to what we would have expected from an administration that claims to be advocates for vulnerable people.”

Details on who made the decision to drop the proposed changes aren’t clear. In response to a Freedom of Information Act request from The Oregonian, the White House refused to release 600 pages of information, arguing that doing so would “inhibit the frank and candid exchange of views that is necessary for effective government decision-making.” But the Labor Department did tell The Oregonian that it was the White House that sent the announcement over, with instructions to release the news on department letterhead. (The Labor Department, Solis and the White House declined requests for comment about the decision-making process.)

There were, as is typical, a handful of problems with the proposed rules. The Labor Department’s definition of “power-driven” equipment, for example, was so broad that it could have banned youth from using flashlights. But these are the sorts of issues a public comment period is designed to address, says Rena Steinzor, a professor at the University of Maryland Carey School of Law and an expert on the regulatory process. “Agencies propose rules, and if there are problems, they solve them with the comment period,” Steinzor explains. “That’s part of the fine-tuning process. That’s what’s been happening for a hundred years. Instead, we had somebody at the White House blow it up.”

* * *

Just before leaving North Carolina, I head to a shopping center to meet up with a 13-year-old boy that Bailey sent my way. Along the drive, I pass through tobacco fields stretching to the horizon. The tall plants, backlit by a dropping sun, are striking, their white flowers sprouting toward the heavens. But it’s an ominous beauty. Just one acre of the crop produces enough tobacco for more than 1 million cigarettes.

The boy, whom I’ll call Ventura, is wearing cargo shorts and an Aéropostale shirt. He greets me with a tentative nod and slides into a booth at Subway. With thick black hair and bronze skin, he speaks in the quiet voice that young people often adopt for adult strangers, his eyes gazing down at the table. When he finally looks up, I notice fatigue lines beneath his eyes. He grimaces when he places his hands on the table. “They hurt from pulling the plants,” he says, spreading his fingers open to reveal tar-stained nails.

Ventura is vague about why he came to North Carolina, saying only that he is living with his uncle for the summer because his parents, Mexican immigrants who now live in Florida, “cannot support a lot of what I want.” He’s been working in tobacco for two months, with a crew that includes two other teenagers, 14 and 17 years old. The workday runs from 7 am to 7 pm, six days a week; sometimes he works Sunday as well. He makes $7 an hour—just shy of the minimum wage—and as a farmworker he’s not entitled to overtime.

“When it’s rainy, I prepare myself with plastic bags,” he says. But the bags don’t always prevent the nicotine from seeping into his skin. “When I’m out there, I get dizzy… so dizzy,” he tells me. “Sometimes I fall down. Sometimes I feel like I’m gonna die.” He says he has seen pesticides applied on adjacent fields while he works. He cracks a wry smile that turns into a grimace. “Man, they’re crazy. It smells horrible. I go home after that, and the walls are moving.”

Before leaving, I ask Ventura if there is anything else he wants to tell me. So far, he’s mostly given me brief answers. But he pauses to consider this request, looking down at his sore hands.

“Don’t be asking people for stuff you want,” he says, speaking slowly. It’s an odd remark. Isn’t “asking for stuff” what being a teenager is all about? After a moment, Ventura goes on, his voice rising, his eyes still glued to his hands. He wants to work slower, he tells me, but there’s a guy on the crew who rushes him. He wants to take longer breaks, but they’re not allowed. He wants to stop working when the leaves are wet, but no one ever does. He wants to go home.

It’s now dark outside. The burst of talking has left Ventura looking depleted. He’ll soon be heading to the fields for another twelve-hour shift. We say goodbye—I remember to shake his hand carefully—and he shuffles out the door, carrying a chicken sandwich in a plastic bag as he disappears into the night.

Demand an End to Child Labor

Brothers separated for 43 years by cruel child migrant scheme finally reunited

Brothers separated for 43 years by cruel child migrant scheme to Australia finally reunited in Britain after desperate search

  • Bruce, Rex and Kevin Wilton reunited in Cornwall after 43 years apart
  • Separated in 1970 when youngest brothers were shipped to Tasmania
  • Rex returned to UK in his 20s but Kevin remained in Australia
  • Youngest sibling was tracked down in New South Wales four years ago
  • Brothers were able to reunite with the help of the Family Restoration Fund
  • Men suffered ‘mental’ and ‘physical’ abuse while in care overseas
  • Over 130,000 children were shipped abroad in ‘shameful’ program
Kevin (left), Rex (centre) and Bruce Wilton (right) have been reunited after 43 years apart.

Kevin (left), Rex (centre) and Bruce Wilton (right) have been reunited after 43 years apart.

By JENNIFER SMITH

Three brothers who were torn apart when two were shipped to Australia as part of the child migrant scheme in seventies have been reunited in Britain – 43 years after the last time they were all together.

Rex, Bruce and Kevin Wilton were separated as children after being taken into care following the death of their father.

However as authorities decided the care for unwanted children had become too expensive, the boys, like thousands of others, were offered the chance of a ‘better’ life abroad.

Kevin, Bruce and Rex as children in their Cornwall home. Bruce was just seven when the boys were taken into care by a foster family in the UK

Kevin, Bruce and Rex as children in their Cornwall home. Bruce was just seven when the boys were taken into care by a foster family in the UK

While the eldest brother Bruce opted to stay and work on a British pig farm instead, his younger siblings were shipped to work on farms in Australia where they endured ‘mental and physical abuse’.

The boys lost touch shortly after their departure, and went decades without a hint of each other’s whereabouts.

But, with the help of the Child Migrant Trust, the family from Mevagissey in Cornwall have been able to reunite in the UK.

Father-of-three Bruce said: ‘It was very emotional.

‘It was great for my kids and family to meet them. It’s still sinking in that we’re finally together as a three.’

The boys lived together with a foster family before being asked if they'd like to go to Australia, described to them in school as 'the land of opportunity'

The boys lived together with a foster family before being asked if they’d like to go to Australia, described to them in school as ‘the land of opportunity’

Kevin and Rex Wilton at their childhood home in Cornwall in the 1960s. The pair were sent to Tazmania as children but lost contact shortly after arriving Kevin and Rex Wilton at their childhood home in Cornwall in the 1960s. The pair hadn't seen each other for 21 years before last week

Kevin and Rex Wilton at their childhood home in Cornwall in the 1960s. The pair were sent to Tazmania as children but lost contact shortly after arriving
Rex and Kevin Wilton recall suffering mental and physical abuse during their time in Tazmania where thousands of children were sent to work as part of the scheme

Rex and Kevin Wilton recall suffering mental and physical abuse during their time in Tazmania where thousands of children were sent to work as part of the scheme

The boys boarded the last deportee plane to Australia from Britain in 1970 - three years after the child migrant programme was scrapped

The boys boarded the last deportee plane to Australia from Britain in 1970 – three years after the child migrant programme was scrapped

The boys were taken into care in when Bruce was seven after their father, who had ‘walked out’ on them and their mother, in Cornwall.

After living together in foster homes for seven years, they were offered the chance to go to Australia in a school assembly announcement.

Bruce chose to stay in the UK while his younger siblings boarded the very last deportee plane in December 1970.

The oldest of the brothers told Mail Online: ‘I remember, later, I regretted not going.’

‘As I got older every time I saw a book or a poster about Australia it reminded me I had lost my brothers.

‘We were told it was the land of opportunity. But, now, hearing what happened to them out there, I’m glad I didn’t go,’ he said.

Younger brothers Rex and Kevin were sent to Tasmania where they worked on farms together for several years before being separated.

When asked what kind of treatment they endured, their older brother simply said: ‘Slave labour’.

‘There were hundreds of them out there, hundreds,’ Bruce added.

The boy's mother, Marina Violet Wade, put them into care as she felt she couldn't cope following their father's death

The boy’s mother, Marina Violet Wade, put them into care as she felt she couldn’t cope following their father’s death

Rex, who was just 11 when sent overseas said: ‘The whole experience ruined my life. We were treated like slaves. It was wrong and should never have happened.

‘The care home was brutal – if the grass wasn’t cut in a certain way you’d be punished for it and he’d throw things at you like a stone or a shovel until it was done right.’

‘I believe that all our choices, by being in Australia, were taken away from us.’

Disillusioned with the country he’d been sent to in the hope of a better life, Rex returned to the UK in his 20s after selling all of his possessions to buy a ticket.

His search for older brother Bruce took a fortuitous turn one day while on he was on a train to Plymouth.

Bruce, 57, recalls how his younger brother ‘met a rather innocuous woman’ who was able to track him down after the pair got chatting on the train.

‘I don’t know how she was able to find me,’ he said, ‘but she did,’ adding the woman – who neither of them had ever met – happened to know where Bruce worked at the time.

They were reunited and began searching for youngest brother, Kevin, though this proved a more difficult feat.

‘It was just blockage after blockage after blockage – a series of dead ends,’ said Bruce.

‘It wasn’t that we didn’t want to find him it was just so difficult back then,’.

But in 2010, following former Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s apology to surviving migrant children, they were able to find their long-lost brother with the help of the Child Migrant Trust.

‘Rex found them,’ Bruce said, speaking of Kevin and his family, who were living in New South Wales at the time.

After their daughters began communicating on Facebook, the men arranged Kevin’s overdue return to Cornwall.

Speaking of their separate lives, Kevin, a retired miner said: ‘I have such fond memories of us as young boys and the jokes and laughter are still exactly the same.

THE CHILD MIGRATION PROGRAMME THAT TORE THOUSANDS OF FAMILIES APART AND LED TO THE HORRIFIC ABUSE OF ‘ORPHANED’ CHILDREN

The origins of the scheme go back to 1618 when a hundred children were sent from London to Richmond, Virginia, with the final party of children arriving in Australia in 1970.
It is estimated that over 130,000 children from the United Kingdom were taken away from their struggling families and shipped to Canada, New Zealand, Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia) and Australia as part of the programme which saw these vulnerable children as ‘ideal immigrants’.
In the post-war era, approximately 3,300 children were shipped to Australia while New Zealand, Rhodesia and Canada received a combined total of about 1,000 children.
It is thought the children, often as young as three, were separated from their siblings and told their parents were dead in order for them to make a fresh start abroad.
They were sent away with the expectation of a better life in a foreign land, but the reality that awaited them was one of torment and abuse.
Most were enslaved to hard labour on farms in Australia and Canada, while in New Zealand children were placed with foster parents.
Bruce and Kevin Wilton pictured in 1962. After finding brother Rex, Bruce tracked down their youngest sibling in New South Wales last year

Bruce and Kevin Wilton pictured in 1962. After finding brother Rex, Bruce tracked down their youngest sibling in New South Wales last year

Rex and Kevin Wilton pictured just four years before being sent to Tazmania in 1970. Rex was 11 while Kevin was just nine when they left Britain

Rex and Kevin Wilton pictured just four years before being sent to Tazmania in 1970. Rex was 11 while Kevin was just nine when they left Britain

‘THE ABSOLUTE TRAGEDY OF CHILDHOODS LOST’: BRITAIN AND AUSTRALIA APOLOGISE TO MIGRANT CHILDREN FOR ‘THE DEPORTATION OF INNOCENTS’

In 2009  Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd apologised to the surviving migrant children in Canberra, expressing remorse for the ‘absolute tragedy of childhoods lost’.
Speaking to an audience of around 900, he said: ‘We are sorry.
‘Sorry that, as children, you were taken from your families and placed in institutions where so often you were abused.
‘Sorry for the physical suffering, the emotional starvation and the cold absence of love, of tenderness, of care.’
‘A turning point for shattered lives, a turning point for governments at all levels and of every political hue and colour to do all in our power to never allow this to happen again.’
The following year Prime Minister Gordon Brown issued a separate apology for the ‘misguided’ scheme.
Speaking in the House of Commons the former Chancellor said: ‘To all those former child migrants and their families… we are truly sorry. They were let down.
‘We are sorry they were allowed to be sent away at the time when they were most vulnerable. We are sorry that instead of caring for them, this country turned its back.
‘And we are sorry that the voices of these children were not always heard, their cries for help not always heeded.
‘And we are sorry that it has taken so long for this important day to come and for the full and unconditional apology that is justly deserved.’
Mr Brown subsequently set up a £6million fund to help surviving families reunite.
It was this fund that enabled the Wilton brothers to come together after being separated for 43 years.
 
The boy's mother, Marina Violet Wade, put them into care as she felt she couldn't cope following their father's death

The boy’s mother, Marina Violet Wade, put them into care as she felt she couldn’t cope following their father’s death

‘I never thought we would get the chance to be together as a three again. There’s no way we’re going to lose contact again – I’ve missed them both so much.’

Speaking of the sequence of events that tore them apart, Kevin said: ‘We were too young to realize what was really going to happen.

‘When we arrived out there it was a extremely hard.

‘There was both physical and mental abuse at the home. They treated you just like a number – you never had any choices.

‘Myself and Rex had stayed in contact through letters but we eventually lost contact.

‘They sent me from place to place but over time Australia started to feel like home and I decided to stay.’

During Kevin’s visit the brothers plan to introduce him to other family members and spend their time visiting places from their childhood.

‘We went back to our hometown where we spent most of our childhood. It was like walking back in time.

‘It was very special,’ said Rex.

Though Kevin is due to return to Australia next month, the men are certain not to lose touch again with – especially since their children have established communication with each other online.

‘It was very sad what happened to us back in the 70s,’ said Bruce.

‘But you know, now we’re back together it’s as though we were never apart.’

 

 

 

Police: 24 Children Rescued from Human Trafficking Scheme

Police describe of child-trafficking operation in ...

Police describe of child-trafficking operation in …: Palm Bay Police give an overview of a human trafficking operation based out of Orlando that involved two dozen chilren being forced to work in Palm Bay. Video by Craig Rubadoux. Edited by Emre Kelly. Posted. Oct. 28, 2013.

PALM BAY — Two dozen Orlando children younger than 18 were crammed into the back of an older model Chevrolet work van, driven to Palm Bay on Friday and dropped off to spend more than 10 hours selling cheap items door-to-door, Palm Bay police said. If they had to use the bathroom, they were told to use the bushes. If they were thirsty, to ask residents for water, police said.

Police arrested two of the men behind the operation, which authorities said provides a window into a growing trend of human trafficking: luring children and young adults with the promise of an honest wage, transporting them in often unsafe conditions and sending them off to conduct unsupervised sales in unfamiliar neighborhoods.

“They were told to sell their goods at all costs. They rounded them up and stuffed them into the back of a van, brought over from Orlando. Food, water, it was rationed. And they were told the only way they could get anything was to sell,” said Yvonne Martinez, spokeswoman for the Palm Bay Police Department.

The driver of the van and owner of an Orlando-based group called Teens Against Drugs and Alcohol, 39-year-old Johnny Carrasquillo, and 20-year-old John Saint Hilaire, 20, faced a judge on 24 counts each of human trafficking.

From left: Johnny Carrasquillo, 39, and John Saint Hilaire, 20.

From left: Johnny Carrasquillo, 39, and John Saint Hilaire, 20.

Brevard Judge Kathleen Clarke ordered both men, who were arrested by Palm Bay police, to be held on a $5.6 million bond each at the Brevard County Jail Complex.

Both also were charged with 24 counts of child abuse and eight counts each of employing a minor child, reports show. The case will be sent to the Brevard County state attorney’s office, where prosecutors will decide whether to press formal charges.

In the Palm Bay case, the children were picked up by 9 a.m. in Orlando and driven to Palm Bay in a van so crowded that some sat on laps and on the floor. Each row of seats was separated by makeshift plywood partitions that blocked the only exit door, Martinez said.

The teens were to be picked up, after a day of sales, about 8:30 p.m. and would not get home until close to midnight, police said.

PALM BAY PD HUMAN TRAFFICING CASE

Officer Chris Jones of the Palm Bay Police Department looks over two vans with wood benches and partitions with breathing holes cut in them blocking windows and doors. / CRAIG RUBADOUX/FLORIDA TODAY

Police said it was a potential tragedy in the making.

Late Friday, Palm Bay police received a message from a Department of Children and Families agent that underage children were roaming Palm Bay streets selling cheap goods.

Martinez said the children were picked up and brought to the Palm Bay Police Department, where officers contacted DCF agents and bought pizza. “We had pizza for them. They were really hungry. And they were hovering over the water fountain,” Martinez said.

The children were turned over to their parents.

Orlando company

The Orlando-based company, Teens Against Drugs and Alcohol, bills itself as a unique educational program that helps “young people from all backgrounds become more responsible citizens,” according to its website. The site featured an open letter by Carrasquillo that was dated Sept. 9. In the letter listing Carrasquillo as the executive director, he warns supporters about four former team leaders conducting unauthorized sales.

“We have notified the police of these activities and have given them the information they need to stop them, but since they are operating in hiding and they look like us, is hard for the police to intervene unless a customer calls or we run in to them,” Carrasquillo wrote.

The website also includes a parental consent form, although Palm Bay police were not sure how much parents knew about the conditions the teens worked under.

One 13-year-old dropped off in Palm Bay told officers she was frightened after someone told her a sex offender lived in the neighborhood where she was walking. “She was scared and was walking alone on her route,” Martinez said. Carrasquillo told the girl to “cross the street,” and keep selling her items, according to police.

Several other young girls told police that Carrasquillo would make them “pull their bra away from their chest and shake it to see if any money falls out,” the police report said.

Growing trend

Experts have warned over the years that door-to-door sales operations using underage children was an emerging trend of human trafficking nationwide.

In 2010, Florida State University, in conjunction with the Center for the Advancement of Human Rights, released a report that showed Florida was a top hub for human trafficking in labor and sexual exploitation.

Labor trafficking was considered the most prevalent type in Florida, with abuse reported primarily in agriculture, tourism and hospitality industries.

“With sales crews, most of the victims are young adults, many of the victims are from low income settings looking for opportunities,” said Alden Pinkham, a case coordinator with the National Human Trafficking Resource Center.

In some cases, young adults answer ads left behind at bus or train stations to be part of door-to-door sales crews. Many of the participants see it as a chance to travel and even enhance their public-speaking capabilities, Pinkham said.

“We see a lot of fraud and coercion in the offers of that free ride. The victims begin to realize that there is no paycheck, no free ride back home, so they keep working despite the conditions. In my experience, I’ve never talked to any crew member who’s gotten a paycheck. It’s just a draw, maybe $15 a day split between others for food,” Pinkham said.

There have been a number of national stories involving “sales crews,” including cases of deadly traffic accidents, sexual assault and what police say was an attack on a teen by a resident in Volusia County. Friday, police also linked at least two of the juveniles to the theft of a golf cart.

When police located Carrasquillo, along with Saint Hilaire, they also found several teens in the van. Police said Carrasquillo said another van had been used, too.

Carrasquillo and Saint Hilaire remain in custody. No new court date has been set.