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7.11.23 – KATV – Little Rock

Beginning on August 1, children in Arkansas under the age of 16 will no longer need employment certificates to work, thanks to a law passed in the last legislative session.

Act 195, also known as the “Youth Hiring Act of 2023,” has drummed up controversy for its removal of what some see as necessary protection for child workers.

The new law eliminates the need for children to get permission to work from the Arkansas Department of Labor and Licensing in the form of an employment certificate, which verifies their age, requires a description of the kind of work they are applying for and the hours, as well as a signature from a parent or guardian.

Sponsors of the bill argued that the employment certificate was an unnecessary obstacle, while those opposed expressed concerns about the removal of the only verifying documentation required for child laborers.

“When you take away the permit, it takes away protections that children and families have. When children are not protected, people prey on them,” said State Senator Fredrick Love of District 15 (D).

“When you begin to talk about human trafficking, this is where this could be a dangerous situation where you have children—number one, you don’t know how old they are—doing unsuitable work for children, and their parents not knowing where they are. That opens up a whole new realm of work—because you don’t want 16-year-olds working in strip clubs, you don’t want 16-year-olds working in factories where they’re putting their lives at risk. I think this bill, Act 195, is a step in the wrong direction in protecting our children,” Love said.

In response to concerns about future accountability surrounding child labor, State Senator Clint Penzo, the primary bill sponsor, reassured that federal and state child labor laws concerning hours, type of work, and etc. already exist.

Love commented that it is ironic that Act 195 says it’s purpose is to restore decision-making to parents concerning child labor when the Act removes the need for parental consent.

In lieu of verifying documentation for child workers, another law (Act 687) was passed during the legislative session which provides enhanced civil and criminal penalties for child labor law violations.