Hard labour for sect's children

Amish relief

Sydney Morning Herald/April 26, 1999

Washington: The US Congress is in the process of exempting the Amish community from laws to protect children in the workplace - a move which critics say will put the clock back 50 years.

The reform, which is already half way to becoming law, will allow 14-year-old Amish children to work in sawmills and other dangerous places, despite a national crackdown on child labour abuse.

But supporters of the exemption, which sailed through the House of Representatives last month, say it is essential to preserve the way of life of the 150,000-strong religious sect, which is struggling for economic survival in pockets of rural Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana.

At the heart of the problem is the Amish prohibition of formal schooling beyond 14, and the sect's tradition of education in the workplace. As Mr. Moses Smucker, 48, who runs a leatherwork and harness shop in Churchtown, Pennsylvania, put it: "We believe in learning by doing. Just because our children stop going to school does not mean that they should not be taught things. They are, just not in school."

The Amish want to employ their children in workplaces because, as Mr. Chris Blank, national chairman of the Old Order Amish Steering Committee, told Congress: "We believe that forced idleness in this age to be detrimental to our long-standing Amish way of raising our children to become good, productive citizens."

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