HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns
August 27, 2007, Herald Journal

TV show accused of child abuse


I’ve always suspected reality shows are extremely cheap to produce. The networks don’t have to hire high-priced talent, or pay for expensive sets and costumes.

CBS and the parents of the 40 kids on Kid Nation have gone too far in cheapness, though. The reality show premiers Sept. 19, and already, it is facing claims of possible child abuse.

The premise of Kid Nation is that the kids, between the ages of 8 and 15, live in a New Mexico ghost town with no adults. They cook their own food, and form their own businesses and government.

What Kid Nation won’t show, though, is how the children were allegedly abused and neglected by the production and their parents, according to Edward Wyatt of the New York Times Aug. 17.

Some of the kids had to get medical attention after accidentally drinking bleach that was stored in an unmarked pop bottle. An 11-year-old girl from Fayetteville, Ga.,had her face burned from spattered grease, Wyatt said.

A 10-year-old from Sylvester, Ga., said the kids hauled a wagon full of supplies through the desolate New Mexico countryside for more than a mile to the set, eight miles south of Santa Fe. Then, they worked from the “crack of dawn” to 9:30 p.m. every day. CBS promised the parents the kids would be paid a $5,000 stipend, for cooking, cleaning, hauling water and running the stores. According to California wages, and time-and-a-half for overtime, the stipend works out to $6.25 an hour.

CBS has been accused of deliberately selecting New Mexico for the show, because New Mexico doesn’t have specific regulations concerning the use of child actors in TV and film production, Wyatt said.

However, New Mexico has child protection services, and it is ticked. According to New Mexico law, the facility where the kids stayed was supposed to have been reviewed and inspected first. It wasn’t.

Romaine Serna, public information officer for the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families department, said CBS never contacted the agency, not before or when the incidents of abuse and neglect occurred.

The state labor department sent an inspector to the site, but he also wasn’t allowed to go to the set where the children were.

In addition, it was the middle of the school year when the show was filmed. The kids were supposed to have tutors because they were missing school. They didn’t.

CBS is claiming it wasn’t violating labor laws because the kids weren’t employed at set wages for performing specific tasks or working specific hours. The kids in the show decided for themselves what they did, according to Wyatt.

However, they did receive the $5,000 stipend, which is payment. They also received a gold star at the end of three days of filming each episode. They turned the stars in at the end of the series for a $20,000 check.

What were the kids’ parents thinking, that they would go along with this stunt? What was CBS thinking? Only about making money, I guess.

I’m not going to watch Kid Nation. If the ratings tank, maybe CBS will never try this again.