Indian American teen earns national prominence on Labor Day for expanding child labor laws

Shreya Nallamothu. PHOTO: @shreyanallamothu

At 15, Shreya Nallamothu, a Junior at University High School in Normal, Illinois, already has a hefty resume. She is on the Board of Directors of She Votes Illinois; has been on the Illinois Council on Women and Girls in the Office of Illinois Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton; Vice Chair of Youth on a Mission; a legal intern at Julia Davis Law Firm; and a Fellow at iCivics.

But what Nallamothu is most known for is changing the Child Labor Law in the state of Illinois, making it the first in the nation to ensure child influencers get some of the money they generate with the Web postings put out by parents or others of children below the age of 16.

Her role in having the Child Labor Law changed to cover child influencers, saw Nallamothu on national television, September 4, Labor Day, on national media, among them PBS. She told the channel the experience of testifying to the Labor Committee, had her thinking of going into public life. Bill 1782 which was first introduced February 9, this year, took till August 11 to become an Act signed into law. It goes into effect July 1, 2024.

So, it seems, surfing the Web, and scrolling through social media is not all bad, going by Nallamothu’s example. During Covid when social life was less if not absent, Nallamothu began observing what was happening in that vast space, and zeroing in on one of the things that may not be right, or just. She saw numerous child social influencers who garnered huge followings, and parents who put their children on social media because of something unique or cute they may be doing, which for some may have resulted in revenues from advertisers.

After months of developing her case as it were, Nallamothu reached out to State Sen. David Koehler of Peoria, who told PBS on September 4, Labor Day, how he came upon Nallamothu’s significant suggestions, and his staff rallied to the cause to draft legislation – Senate Bill 1782, and have it passed.

Illinois State Sen. Dave Koehler message for Labor Day. PHOTO X @senatorkoehler

Both Illinois House and Senate passed the bill after a few amendments, and Public Act 103-0556 will effectively give fair compensation, around 30 percent when they reach a certain age, to child social media influencers, from earnings derived from vlog or videos that feature them.

In an August 11 press release, State Sen. Koehler noted that with the rise of social media influencing, all someone needs to reach fame now is a cell phone. While traditional child actors are protected by the Child Labor Law, there was nothing on the books for young social media influencers, that is, until Public Act 103-0556.

“The rise of social media has given children new opportunities to earn a profit,” said Koehler (D-Peoria). “Many parents have taken this opportunity to pocket the money, while making their children continue to work in these digital environments.”

Under Senate Bill 1782, minors under the age of 16 featured in vlogs or other online content are covered under the Child Labor Law. The measure calls for the child – also known as a “kidfluencer”— to be accurately compensated.

The press release notes that the idea for the legislation came from the 15-year-old Indian American high school student in Koehler’s district.

Shreya brought her proposal to Koehler with concerns that money made by child influencers is not protected and that too many young people will fall victim to a parent or guardian taking the assets for their own use, notes the press release.

“When scrolling on social media, I always saw young children and families, called family vlog channels, posting videos online. After finding that users could make money off of platforms such as YouTube and TikTok, I learned that, often, these kids are made to participate in videos without any guarantee of the income generated from the content,” Shreya is quoted saying in the press release. “I wanted to work with Senator Koehler to protect the money that these kids have rightfully earned.”

Illinois State Sen. Dave Koehler announcing passage of child labor bill Aug. 11, 2023, initiated by Shreya Nallamothu. PHOTO Twitter @senatorkoehler

According to CBS News quoted by Koehler’s office, kidfluencers with one million followers can earn $10,000 or more per sponsored post. Young children are often featured in social media content without any guarantee of the income they have earned. Because of the age restrictions on online platforms, the content is not created in the child’s name, but rather the parent or guardian who runs the account. While traditional child actors in Illinois have the Child Labor Law to safeguard their earnings, there was nothing in place for kidfluencers.

“This new digital age has given us tremendous opportunities to connect with one another, but it’s also presented legal issues that have never existed before,” said Koehler. “We need to work with our children to see the problems they face and tackle them head-on before any further harm is done.”

Her University High School newspaper, Clarionette, featured Nallamothu back in its April 25, 2023 issue, after the State Senate passed the law which still needed the lower house to do the same.

“This bill would never have come to the attention of Illinois State legislation without the work of sophomore Shreya Nallamothu (Nala-ma-thoo),” the news article says, adding that, “During quarantine in 2020, Nallamothu spent a lot of time scrolling through social media and found several examples of this type of exploitation which is what inspired her to begin researching.”

“If I’m scrolling through Tik-Tok or YouTube I often see videos of these really young children with their entire lives being filmed,” Nallamothu told the Clarionette. “I sort of fell down that Youtube rabbit hole, and I wanted to see if there were any protections in place about the serious exploitation that was happening.”

Her research led to consulting with attorneys who gave her a positive feedback, after which she made it an independent study and chose her World Studies teacher Morgan Schmidt as her sponsor, the article says.

“Children are my livelihood,” Schmidt told the Clarionette. Which led him to work with Shreya to protect them. The Illinois Labor Committee also helped with drafting the bill.

Schmidt described Nallamothu as “a go-getter,” someone who would go for what she wanted.

“The process is a lot of emailing and following up,” Nallamothu said to the Clarionette. “It is difficult especially when you are trying to schedule a meeting, but I wouldn’t say it’s impossible.”



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