Child labor in the meatpacking industry has been getting a lot of attention, but what role, if any, have the parents played? A Nebraska county court case is providing answers from one family, and it’s not pretty.

The mother of a 14-year-old girl, who worked the night shift at JBS Grand Island doing sanitation work, provided falsified documents showing her daughter was 22 years old, according to the Nebraska State Patrol.

The girl’s mother was pocketing her paycheck, while teachers and staff of the girl’s middle school wondered about the 14-year-old girl’s chemical burns and why she was falling asleep during the school day.

The parents have both pleaded guilty to child abuse by child labor. Their names aren’t being released in order to keep the minor child’s name from going public. The mother is sentenced to two months of house arrest followed by one year of supervised probation. The stepfather did a 30-day stint in the county jail.

The parents admitted they helped the daughter get a job that was hazardous because it involved cleaning machinery in a meatpacking plant. The county attorney filed the charges in August 2022.

Charges like these against parents are rare, according to Nebraska officials. Only about five similar cases were bought in the past decade. No other parents have been charged although 27 minors did hazardous work a the JBS beef plant in Grand Island. Those were the findings of the U.S. Department of Labor in its investigation of Packers Sanitation Services Inc., which provided contract labor to JBS.

The Labor Department imposed monetary penalties on Packers Sanitation totaling $1.5 million for more than 100 children in those hazardous meat industry jobs at plants run by such industry leaders as Tyson, JBS, and Cargill.

Packers Sanitation, based in Kieler, WI, is one of the nation’s largest food safety sanitation services providers in the country. It paid the civil money penalties after the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division found the company employed at least 102 children – from 13 to 17 years of age – in these hazardous meatpacking occupations.

Homeland Security is reportedly investigating possible human trafficking schemes involving the meat industry. Those reports came after at least 13 meat industry plants in eight states were employing children, including some who were working at night to clean slaughter operations, which has food safety implications.

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