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Indian American Teen Helps Draft Legislation to Help Kid Influencers Protection of Child Labor Law

Indian American Teen Helps Draft Legislation to Help Kid Influencers Protection of Child Labor Law

  • Shreya Nallamothu, 15, played the catalyst behind Illinois Senate Bill 1782 which was sponsored by State Sen. David Koehler of Peoria.

During the pandemic, Illinois teen Shreya Nallamothu took refuge in social media. While scrolling through TikTok, she started to notice how much content featured children performing in professionally produced family videos, or “vlogs.”

“At first, I didn’t think much of it,” she told the Chicago Tribune. But as the content kept populating her YouTube, TikTok, Instagram and Facebook pages, the Indian American quickly became aware of “the exploitation that can happen to kids in the industry,” she told the publication. After some research, she realized that there was “absolutely zero legislation in place” to protect these kids.

Above, University High School student. Top photo, Nallamothu. center, with Illinois Senator David Koehler, right, and Morgan Schmidt, her freshman world studies teacher at of University High School.

During her research process, Nallamothu had several meetings with attorneys to see if this bill could possibly be passed, reported The Clarinotte, the student news site of University High School. After the positive feedback she received, she began the next steps to create this piece of legislation through an independent study. With her freshman world studies teacher, Morgan Schmidt. By having her as a sponsor, Nallamothu “was provided with an “echo chamber,” for her ideas, Schmidt told The Clarinotte. 

Schmidt gave her student “an organizational structure to follow each week of her study as well as helped her troubleshoot through the multiple drafts of her bill,” the newspaper said in its report. After many emails, Nallamothu was able to get in touch with Illinois Senator David Koehler and members of the Illinois labor committee to contribute to this bill. “The process is a lot of emailing and following up,” Nallamothu told the student paper. “It is difficult especially when you are trying to schedule a meeting, but I wouldn’t say it’s impossible.”

“A lot of the time (the child influencers) are being forced by their parents to appear in videos, but then because they’re a minor they don’t have access to any of that money.”

Two years later, the 15-year-old student at University High School Student is a catalyst behind legislative efforts, set in motion by Koehler to establish a compensation rate for individuals under the age of 16 featured in vlogs. Senate Bill 1782 would put children who are featured in vlogs under the protection of the Illinois Child Labor Law. It would entitle child influencers under the age of 16 to a percentage of earnings based on how often they appear on video blogs or online content that generates at least 10 cents per view. 

To qualify, the content must be created in Illinois, and kids would have to be featured in at least 30% of the content in a 30-day period. Video bloggers — or vloggers — would be responsible for maintaining records of kids’ appearances and must set aside gross earnings for the child in a trust account for when they turn 18, otherwise, the child can sue.

“A lot of the time (the child influencers) are being forced by their parents to appear in videos, but then because they’re a minor they don’t have access to any of that money,” Nallamothu told NPR affiliate WGLI radio.

“This new digital era has allowed children to find ways to make money online from the content they make,” Koehler said in a statement. “The problem is that many parents take this opportunity to pocket the money themselves and encourage their children to make more content for their benefit. This is a child labor issue that didn’t exist 10 years ago.”

The bill passed the state Senate unanimously in March. Now it has been moved to the Illinois House. State Rep. Sharon Chung, a Bloomington Democrat, is the bill’s House sponsor. The measure awaits a hearing in that chamber. If it wins approval in the state House, the bill will go back to the Senate for a final vote before it makes its way to Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who said he intends to sign it in the coming months.

Nallamothu told WGLI she hopes other states will follow Illinois and wants to see the bill on a national scale.

The Associated Press noted that the Illinois bill is “modeled largely after California’s 1939 Jackie Coogan law, named for the silent film-era child actor who sued his parents for squandering his earnings.” Coogan laws now exist in several states and require parents to set aside a portion of child entertainers’ earnings for when they reach adulthood.

However, the report indicated how other states have tried to pass laws to regulate potential child exploitation on social media without success. “A 2018 California child labor bill included a social media advertising provision that was removed by the time it was passed,” the report said, as well as in Washington, where a similar bill was stalled in committee.

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