Do Amish follow child labor laws?

Last month a 15-year-old Amish girl lost an arm in a saw accident in a pallet shop in Allen County, Indiana. Local news outlet WANE has done a story about child labor violations in the business where the accident took place. You can view the clip here (no longer online).

Child labor restrictions were lessened for Amish in 2004, allowing greater scope for 14 to 17-year-olds to work in family businesses, including manufacturing shops.

Interviewing Amish business owners for my first book, it occasionally came up that a child couldn’t do certain work because they weren’t old enough.

While Amish may not always agree with government regulations such as those imposed by OSHA, I have a sense that many, if at times begrudgingly, adhere to them.

However, I don’t know how effectively you prevent, say, an Amish child who is a few months shy of the mandated age from doing a forbidden task.

Idle hands need work–work which young people are eager to do.

How adamant are Amish parents and business owners about adhering to the law, assuming they are aware of it?  The Allen County pallet shop owner, for example, stated that he did not even know he was violating child labor laws.

Amish, of course, feel strongly about the importance of their children working, especially in the crucial years following graduation from the eighth grade.

What do you think?

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    1. OldKat

      Child Labor Laws

      These laws are there for a reason. I am generally in favor of as little government intrusion into our lives as possible. In this case though there is more than ample reason to place limits on the activities that youth can be involved in while in the work force.

      When I taught in the public schools my course load included shop classes. The idea that students could literally lose life and limb while under my watch was VERY sobering. That coupled with teenagers known tendency to feel invincible is a caustic combination. Child labor laws are pretty well documented and I see little reason that they shouldn’t be observed.

    2. Ana Sweet

      Not new

      My husband at 14 in the 60’s could not work in a Dunkin Donuts due to just being around equipment. However, it was legal to work on a huge dairy farm and operate all the equipment, tractors, milking machines, work with cows and bulls, etc.

      Convinced him it was hard and dangerous and he needed an education.

      Even adults have many accidents in factories and home businesses that involve saws, etc. It is only news because of her age.

    3. New York State of Mind

      I started working when I was 13 or 14, back in the 60’s, but I was working in my Dad’s office. When I was 15, I was selling in a store. I think it depends on the type of job whether a child should start working young or not. Both my brothers started working on one of my Uncle’s farms picking strawberries. My Dad lost part of his finger in a machine when he was in his 50’s which made him leave machine work and starting his own business. Accidents can happen to adults and children, but I do believe they are more likely to happen to children.
      I guess what I am trying to say is, it depends on the type of job.

    4. Linda

      Was this a daughter of the owner, or an employee?

      1. I don’t think that information was given in either the text or the video. According to the video 7 young people were involved in the citations so probably most were not the owner’s children.

    5. Debbie H

      I would like to know if it was a daughter or employee too. If it is his daughter I believe he was not breaking the law. English let their children mow the grass, ride ATVs, dirt bikes, go carts, etc. If that isn’t endangering them I do not know what is. If it was an employee I might think differently. As for the owner not knowing the law? It is possible since the Amish try to stay out of the world. In any case it is sad that the girl lost her arm, and sad that we put more national attention on a child losing an arm while being productive and less on a parent allowing their child to play with dangerous machines.

    6. Matt from CT

      Child labor laws are meant to stop industrial exploitation, and were enacted at a time when people were widely viewed as disposable inputs.

      Like many of our regulations, those meant to restrain persons whose only moral system is maximizing profit do not scale down to a more humane system where individuals are interacting as individuals, making judgements of who is physically and mentally mature enough to handle which tasks, where parents or masters are passing on a trade to their children/apprentices.

      This seem conflict is arising again in non-Amish agriculture where there has a been a crack down on farm youth labor — the same laws that might prevent exploitation of a migrant minor are now being used to say a farmer can’t hire his nephew to do the same task his son could do.

      We are continually giving our youth less responsibility under the color of law, then wonder why they seem increasingly irresponsible.

      1. Great points Matt. Can’t really add anything.

    7. Stephen B.

      I wholeheartedly second what Matt says about the intent of the laws being to stop exploitation.

      I work in a residential treatment school that has a wood shop, auto shop, and a large garden. Within reason we let kids use power mowers and some (not all!) of the wood shop power tools. We can do so because these kids are in an educational setting rather than an employment setting. I am all for teaching kids how to use these things while I am watching nearby.

      Letting a kid toil for hours with some dangerous tool where fatigue and inexperience can lead to nasty accidents is another matter.

      Sometimes, despite the best of intentions, people lose body parts to machinery. I guess when society wrote the child labor laws, we assumed that parents who are farmers, have more of an interest in seeing that their kids get more supervision than say, the same kid working in some faceless corporation’s clothing factory might. That is to say I am for maintaining parents rights to decide what is best for their kids’ situation.

      Although, if a few more of these types of accidents make the news, such laws will be extended to family farms. (I suppose that in the now unlikely event a family owned a factory, that even the family’s kids would be barred from operating machinery in that place.)

      1. Good points

        On the fatigue point this is where the over-hours violation comes into play.

        All things considered, the girl may have been entirely capable of operating the saw (not saying she should have been), but if the owner is going to ignore the law that says she shouldn’t use it, he’s also not likely to pay much heed to the hours stipulations as well…which may fatigue a 15-year-old (whose body, strength and stamina is not fully developed) to the point where she is no longer able to use the saw safely. I do wonder if she was one of the ones who worked more than she should have been.

        Just an awful accident and especially to have happen at that age. Besides the immediate trauma and painful adjustment to living life without a limb, how will this change the course of her life, affect her chances to marry, etc? On the positive side, she lived.

    8. Alice Mary

      Tough call

      I feel a family farm or business is a good place to learn a trade/craft/skill, and that since Amish kids are expected to work (nowadays, less & less in family farming/business), after 8th grade, they should be allowed to do so. However, I’d sure hope that the adults involved would emphasize safety, and yes, maturity of the child should certainly be considered.

      My suggestion for the Amish would be to consider the average age for joining “church” be the age when kids beyond 8th grade be trusted to work with what the English consider dangerous machinery. At Walmart where I worked 23 years ago, no one under (if I remember correctly) 18 could use the box crusher/baler. From what I’ve read and heard (on this blog & elsewhere), about that age would seem to mark the individual as “mature” enough for church membership. It seems better than English laws (depending on the place) which allow 15-year-olds to operate an ATV, snowmobile, dirt bike, etc.

      I’d think the Amish kids are probably more likely to be “mature” enough to handle the responsibilty of operating dangerous machinery earlier than English kids, if only because their tradition/history calls for it. However, a 15-year-old body may not be capable of the physical load, for an entire workday. That’s where English law might work out to be safer for all.

      I feel for that poor girl & her family. Is there any way we can help via this blog?

      Alice Mary

      1. Alice Mary I have not heard of any fund or anything set up via a bank as in some of the other accident/medical situations. I worked in Allen County for three weeks but don’t really have any close connections. I don’t think the financial side is going to be an issue in this community though.

    9. Sheila

      I find it amazing that we as a nation worry about things like at what age a child can work, yet many parents let their kids play in the street in front of 2000 lb cars and then place fault on a driver if something happens. There simply isn’t enough parents who care these days like they did many years ago. Kids grow up by society, not by parental/family values.

      There are so many valid points that other bring up like the fact that kids are playing on 4-wheelers, mowing lawns and such. But in that same respect, we don’t want a kid operating certain machinery until they are 18, but we certainly will allow them an even more dangerous piece of equipment when we let them start driving.

      These laws were meant to keep away from exploitation, they weren’t originally intended to replace parenting, like they are now. I feel for the Amish girl, but I also live around many Amish in a big community of their own and they belief in hard work, discipline and values. The world, or just America could learn a few lessons from the past these people live.

    10. Katrina

      Was "Emancipated Minor" A Factor?

      My heart goes out to this girl and her family. I am originally from Indiana, and growing up there, several of my friends were working in the fields in the summers at the age of 13 or 14. It is not uncommon to teach a 12 or 13 year old to drive vehicles or operate equipment, especially on a farm. Indiana has something called “emancipated minor”- a teen can petition to be considered an adult, responsible for their own decisions, signing contracts, etc., as long as they can prove they can support themselves ,without parental help. Please do a follow up story in a month or so.

      1. Katrina that is fascinating, I did not realize that there was such a concept, and am surprised that it could apply to someone so young. As far as driving a farm truck or other equipment, I have wondered about the legality of that. For that matter I don’t see a big issue if the child is physically able, well-trained, and keeps speeds low. There are plenty of adults on the roads that fail in one or more of those conditions.

        I’ll share more if any more news comes out on this.

    11. In the video they say that a dozen violations were found. These offenses seem to vary widely in their seriousness.

      The most egregious if of course the girl working in the prohibited or “hazardous occupation”.

      I take this to mean she was too young to be operating the power saw which led to her tragic accident.

      Two of three other citations mentioned–no safety poster displayed, and minors working without a permit–seem relatively benign.

      Practically speaking they probably have little to no effect on the level of safety (more likely they’ll learn how to do a task safely from the example of experienced workers in the shop, not by guidance from the poster).

      I’m not sure what the third offense, “hour violations” means, though it sounds like someone working longer than is deemed acceptable.

      Amish life may be more dangerous to begin with, but this business was not doing all it could to minimize danger to its young workers.

    12. Kaylee

      Child Labor Laws and Amish

      Well, since the Amish work on a farm with their children, and grandchildren, you have to wonder what can they do? Because Amish men have to take care of the food crops, feed the livestock, slaughter the livestock, and so much more. Amish women even have to bake, can food, clean the house, take care of the kids, and cook meals. Both Amish men and women are pretty busy. They might want someone to help out. Also, she was under-age for Modern-Day people (Non-Amish people), but the Amish not only do all their work, but some of them get jobs at their own bakery, or selling their produce. Besides, after 8th grade Amish don’t go to school anymore, so what can they do about playing, working, or earning money? The Amish women usually get part-time jobs for money so they can buy things and help their parents pay off bills.

    13. Lou

      the Amish children working that I see a more responsible that many of adults that I know. But I just recently ran into a case where a young 17 year old Amish man logging for his relative wanted to leave home and work for his uncle in construction. Since he’s underage living at home he is forced to give his earnings to his father.the kid ran away to live with his ex Amish uncle and only to be snatched up by his father again and taking home. He’s one of 12 children who also live at home and even the ones that out of school are forced to support the family.Some have attended to leave but always are forced to come home.I hate to step in but have mentioned laws that protect the kids