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labor Guatemalan Boy Dies in Mississippi Poultry Plant Accident

Duvan Perez, 16, dies at Mar-Jac factory in Hattiesburg, Mississippi amid rollback of child labor laws across several US states

A 16-year-old from Guatemala died on Friday after sustaining a workplace injury at a poultry plant in Mississippi, authorities confirm.

The child, identified as Duvan Tomas Perez, died at Mar-Jac Poultry plant in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, about two hours outside of Jackson, NBC News reported. He migrated to the US six years ago from the town of Huispache and was a middle school student.

The accident occurred on Friday at about 8pm central time, the Forrest county coroner, Butch Benedict, told the Guardian.

The teenager’s death was caused by workplace equipment, Benedict confirmed. Benedict added that an autopsy had been completed and details would probably be released next week.

An employee who was working at the time of the incident told NBC that he heard the boy cry for help.

“Two times he began to scream, ‘Help! Help!’” the worker said to NBC. “I knew he had died.”

Minors in Mississippi are not allowed to be employed in poultry plants. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Osha) and the labor department have launched investigations into the boy’s death, NBC reported.

Companies in violation of labor rules could face fines of over $30,000 per incident.

Several employees have died at Mar-Jac over the years, Benedict said. Perez’s was the third death since 2020, when a 33-year old worker died after being injured at the plant, Hattiesburg American reported.

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A 48-year employee also died in June 2021 after sustaining injuries from heavy machinery, the American reported.

Several US states have recently rolled back child labor protections, an effort mostly led by Republican lawmakers, despite child labor law violations increasing by 37% in 2022 and by 283% since 2015.

In May, the Iowa governor, Kim Reynolds, received widespread criticism after signing legislation overturning several child labor protections including how many hours children can work and the type of industries.

The new legislation also provides employers with exemption from liability if minors are sickened, injured or killed at work.

Such rollbacks in protections often affect migrant children who can be at an increased risk of exploitation, said Elora Mukherjee, a professor of law at Columbia Law School.

“Rather than being in school and being generously supported by the communities they’re in, many of these children are forced to work in exploitative conditions to try and support themselves and their family members,” said Mukherjee, emphasizing the need for migrant children to receive support.

Mukherjee said it was hard to pin down an exact figure on how many migrant minors are being employed illegally.

Federal investigations have been opened in at least 11 states to better understand the scope of the problem, Mukherjee added, calling those inquiries an important first step.

“It’s clearly just a first step. It’s not enough,” Mukherjee said, adding that the government should be investing more into such investigations and targeting firms and employers who are hiring migrant children.

Monetary fines that companies face for violations can also be minuscule and “not sufficient to deter child labor violations”, especially for multinational corporations who make millions in profits, Mukherjee said.

Mukherjee called the death of Duval a “tragedy” that reflects the difficult situations migrant minors face.