The subject of Danger: Kids at Work is the abuse of child-labor laws — of some businesses’ pursuit, as narrator Amy Irving (Crossing Delancey) puts it, ”of high profits all too often made at the expense of our children.” This makes for a harrowing hour. Danger: Kids at Work shows us children who’ve lost limbs operating farm equipment in the Midwest, as well as the children of illegal immigrants who have contracted nervous disorders from picking fruit covered with pesticides.
One segment of this production is devoted entirely to portraits of some urban teenagers who take after-school jobs. Those who aren’t dozing through their classes (because they work longer hours than the law permits) are shown to be the victims of freak accidents (a young man working in a car wash had his leg torn off after it was sucked into the towel-drying machine).
As these descriptions suggest, there’s a certain amount of melodrama in Danger: Kids at Work. Executive producers Pat Mitchell and Jacoba Atlas are often guilty of shameless tear-jerking as they repeatedly push their cameras into the faces of emotional parents telling stories about their children’s misfortunes.
But Danger succeeds in what it sets out to do: shake us up, make us realize the extent to which child-labor laws are being flouted. Irving’s constructive suggestions are that citizens should insist that the government enforce existing child-labor laws, hire more child-labor investigators, and demand higher fines for violators (the car wash owner whose equipment severed that boy’s leg is said to have paid a mere $400 fine). At its best, Danger: Kids at Work is effective muckraking.