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The Labor Department said it had sought to reduce fatalities for child farm workers in proposing such changes. It said it backed off because of the outpouring against the measure as many agriculture advocates cited the impact on small farmers where youth often pitched in to keep the farm afloat.

“The Obama administration is firmly committed to promoting family farmers and respecting the rural way of life, especially the role that parents and other family members play in passing those traditions down through the generations,” the Labor Department responded in a statement.

“To be clear, this regulation will not be pursued for the duration of the Obama administration. Instead, the Departments of Labor and Agriculture will work with rural stakeholders - such as the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Farmers Union, the Future Farmers of America and 4-H - to develop an educational program to reduce accidents to young workers and promote safer agricultural working practices.”

Human Rights Watch called on the U.S. to enforce treaty obligations, citing obligations under the Worst Forms of Child Labor Convention of the International Labor Organization. The group noted that child labor disproportionately affected poor Hispanic children, who made up the bulk of child farm workers in the U.S., the group said.

“Only Congress can change the lethal double standard that allows children to do hazardous work in agriculture at age 16, while prohibiting the same work in all other jobs until age 18,” Ms. Coursen-Neff said. “But the Labor Department can protect children under 16 from hazardous jobs, and it should.”