The Amish and work rules: a Labor Department reply Your March 2 editorial ("Accommodating the Amish") charges that the US Department of Labor's enforcement of this nation's child labor laws impinges on the constitutional and religious rights of the Amish. We disagree.

Federal child labor laws are intended to protect all young workers, including Amish youths, from unsafe and unhealthy work environments. Tragically, some 210,000 youths are injured on the job each year. The wood-processing industry has an occupational fatality rate nearly five times higher than the national private-industry average. Amish youths are not immune to such danger.

This issue arose not, as you assert, from competitor complaints, but because the Department of Labor seeks to promote child labor compliance in industries with high injury rates. In 1996 and 1997, the department's Wage and Hour Division undertook an enforcement initiative in western Pennsylvania in several of these high-injury industries. Religious affiliation was never, and never should be, considered in selecting employers for investigation. Only three of the nine sawmills cited for violations were Amish-owned.

The children of all families and all faiths have the right to be protected from hazardous conditions in the world of work.

Bernard E. Anderson Washington Assistant secretary for employment standards, US Department of Labor

China's shadow over Hong Kong Two March 12 articles ("Hong Kong's rules rule, for now" and "Loopholes leave room for China") rightly assert that the loopholes in Hong Kong's Basic Law ensure that, should conflicts arise between the mainland's communism and Hong Kong's capitalism, under "one country, two systems," it is the mainland's that rules. This "remote" possibility casts a long shadow over Hong Kong's future.

According to the Basic Law, the "high degrees of autonomy" that are "granted" to Hong Kong are subject to the final interpretation of the Standing Committee of China's National People's Congress (NPC) - a rubber stamp for the Communist Party's power, not a government representative of the people's will. No Hong Kong law can contradict China's central laws made by the NPC, yet China has no judicial review to declare its own laws or regulations unconstitutional. Further, China forbids Hong Kong courts to rule mainland laws unconstitutional.

If China had a well-established rule of law, its unprecedented pledge to preserve Hong Kong's way of life for 50 years would enjoy more credibility. Short of that, it is better to insert built-in constitutional mechanisms, such as judicial review to prevent Beijing from encroaching on Hong Kong.

Vincent Wei-cheng Wang Richmond, Va.

Choice between military and 'good life' The letters from two teens in the March 8 Monitor, responding to "Why teens balk at joining military" (Feb. 25), pinpointed problems in recruiting that Congress and the American people will have to deal with if they wish to maintain a first-class military.

The recruiters can promise adventure and travel, but they cannot deal with the human factors that are taking such a toll on our service people. Since the forces have been drawn down to low levels, and are being inserted into every troubled area in the world, the same personnel are deployed over and over. Some specialized units do not spend a Christmas with their families for years in a row. These are serious sacrifices, which thoughtful young people will consider when they see opportunity for success and the good life in the economy.

Patricia Clatanoff Lakeway, Texas

The Monitor welcomes your letters and opinion articles. We can neither acknowledge nor return unpublished submissions, and all submissions are subject to editing. Letters must be signed and include your mailing address and telephone number. Mail letters to 'Readers Write,' and opinion articles to Opinion Page, One Norway St., Boston, MA 02115, or fax to 617-450-2317, or e-mail to oped@csps.com

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