12/14/23 | New York Times — The New York Times conducted an investigation that revealed a troubling trend of underage migrant children working in hazardous roofing jobs across the United States. Despite federal laws prohibiting individuals under 18 from engaging in roofing due to its dangerous nature, many migrant children, known as “ruferitos,” find themselves on rooftops, often without proper safety equipment.
The investigation included interviews with over 100 child roofers, some of whom have been working since elementary school age, enduring long hours and physically demanding tasks in extreme conditions. Regrettably, accidents are not uncommon, and the consequences can be lethal or result in severe injuries, as detailed through personal stories like that of 15-year-old Honduran Antoni Padilla, who experienced a devastating fall that left him with critical brain trauma.
Despite the federal government’s vow to combat child labor, enforcement has been lackluster, with few fines issued and many incidents not thoroughly investigated. The Department of Labor is understaffed, with limited resources to keep pace with the rapid growth of this illegal workforce. Employers often take advantage of these young workers’ vulnerability, failing to provide adequate safety measures or medical assistance when injuries occur.
The pervasive issue is deepened by the labor market’s demand for cheap labor and is perpetuated by social networks that facilitate underage individuals finding roofing work. As these migrant children continue to share their experiences online, the article highlights a grave issue that combines labor exploitation with a failure of regulatory systems designed to protect the most vulnerable workers.