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Should Children Have Employee Rights on Reality TV Shows?

An investigation by the Los Angeles Times recently looked into how child labor laws are applied on the sets of reality TV shows in California and across the nation. The Times found that, for several reasons, the laws protecting children from dangerous conditions and ensuring their well-being and continued education while on reality TV sets are a legal gray area. The report found widespread confusion within the television industry and state agencies over what child labor laws apply to children on reality shows.

The federal Fair Labor Standards Act establishes child-employment rules, but exempts child actors. States are left to regulate the employment of child performers, and many states have few or no rules in this area. California has strong laws governing the work conditions and compensation of child performers, but how these laws apply to reality TV shows is still uncertain.

One of the main sources of confusion comes from classifying reality TV shows as entertainment and from identifying whether children appearing on the show are actually performers and entertainers. Since reality TV is a blend of storytelling and documentary, some say that children appearing on shows are not performers or employees.

Needless to say, those who look after the rights of child employees and child actors are concerned over the lack of firm rules and enforcement of child labor laws.  SAG and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists have been trying to strengthen laws that protect the earnings of child performers and establish education and work-condition requirements, but most reality TV programs are nonunion.