Protecting Children: 22 U.S. Laws Parents Must Follow

When it comes to raising children, every parent on the planet, at one time or another, wishes they had a rule book to follow. While there are no step-by-step instructions on what to do when Johnny imagines his artwork on the newly painted living room wall, there are step-by-step rules every American parent has access to for the bigger things in life.

Life happens. When it comes to the United States's laws, not many parents go into the job of parenting hoping they will need to know their rights should something happens. Few enter marriage expecting it to end, or think it will be that same precious Johnny that starts talking about emancipation before he's even hit puberty. What are your rights? What are theirs? What do you do now?

To make matters worse, we live in a time of changing climate, and the rules seem to be evolving with every passing day, making your job just a little more difficult every single day.

We've scoured the halls of justice across the land to find the top 22 laws that every parent, adoptive parent, soon-to-be parent, legal guardian, grandparent, and every emancipated minor should know. This covers you from the basic unalienable rights for your precious Boo's that are the rights and freedoms they are born with, to the bigger questions in life that will help you feel grounded in your own rights and freedoms as a parent in this great nation.

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22 Before Booking Your Next Trip...


Speaking of traveling! You may have heard of the Real ID Act, a new act that just came into effect as of January 22, 2018. Nine states now require more documentation for domestic flights in the United States. In other words, you may think if you are jaunting from Texas to Maine and then back again for the holidays, and your driver's license will be enough, think again. This is no longer the case, and parents need to know.

In Maine, you'll need documentation beyond your driver's license, and so will your kids. Passports are part of the real ID package with this law and will be acceptable. So yes, although your passports won't be stamped, you will now need them to fly domestically in Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, Maine, Washington, Montana, South Carolina, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania. This has been somewhat problematic for some families as this law is new but definitely being followed strictly. So next time you plan on traveling with the family, be sure to check the necessary documents needed.

21 Exempting Parents From Being Accused

A few years ago, a mom in New York City let her nine-year-old son ride the New York City subway system all by himself. You can imagine what happened. The critics of the world jumped on their high horses and bandwagons and went to town on her. She was accused of neglect and many other hateful and spiteful things. The child is fine, and can now handle the New York subway, a bragging feat not many kids can claim.

Now, at least one state has a free range law that allows for more room in the parent's freedoms, and with the child's as well. It's called the Free Range Parenting Bill. It exempts parents from being accused of neglect when they give their child some independence. So in Utah, let your kid ride the bus, go to the park, or even walk to school alone, if you think they can handle it. Utah is the first state to do something like this and others are steadily thinking about it and putting it on the agenda.

In some states, you can have your child taken away from you for this. But not in Utah.

20 Sharing Is Caring When It Comes To Custody

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Shared custody is a funny bird, and to many of us it may seem like it's such a part of life it's hard to imagine that it was ever not a thing. The truth is, while divorce has been around since the Middle Ages, shared custody has not been. It has only been in the past decade or so that fathers have seen more rights and more visitation in the advent of divorce. Given early years theories, Congressional laws at the federal level based on shared custody gave mothers the upper hand at custody court.

But that's not the case anymore. More and more parents and families are moving away from the "every other weekend" visitation schedule, and shared custody is becoming a more common thing, in the legislatures, and in the courts. The Washington Post reports that shared custody is now defined as equal time for both mom and dad, acknowledging the rights of the child to share time with both parents. At the time of press, as many as 20 states are climbing on board this train. This would be the case even if the parents had a problem with this. The court has an idea of what is in the best interest of your child even when you two are arguing too much about the toilet seat to figure that out.

That's okay, it's called being human. We've all been there. Just know that custody going to mom isn't necessarily a given anymore. Full custody is much more difficult to get today than it ever has been, unless you can prove criminal behavior, abuse, or drug use.

19 What Are The Car Seat Rules?

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When it comes to car seats, there are laws that vary from state to state. Generally speaking, however, rear-facing car seats are required up to one year of age, at which point boosters are front-facing seats can be used. In most states, children under eight must stay in the back seat or children up to approximately 57 to 60 inches tall, or children under 80 pounds in weight.

Laws stipulate that children under eight, or as early as seven in states like Delaware, must be restrained in the back. Seatbelts are required for all children up to the age of 15, or 16, and every state has their own seatbelt law. The penalties for violations are often nothing more than a citation, but it will go on your record and it could have an impact on your car insurance. That $25 seatbelt citation could wind up costing you a lot more. So the next time that Johnny and Princess are fighting in the back on your family road trip, if they take their seatbelts off, you can tell them they will be paying for your new car insurance if you get pulled over. We can't help you with their squabbling, but at least they will be buckled up.

18 Immigration and Adoption - Your New Family Member Is Family Regardless Of Where They Come From

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Immigration is a hot topic today as is international adoption. With so much talk about immigration in the news, it can be difficult to keep everything straight as far as what news has manifested into actual laws, and what is just political buzz. Not many immigration laws have actually changed in the last two or three years. Coming to America has many of the same regulations as it has had for the past decade or so.

But when it comes to adoption, the rules can seem confusing. The truth is, they are quite straightforward. It may feel like another issue or roadblock if you are just starting to think about the process of adoption. It is perfectly human to worry about starting the adoption process when immigration is so debated in this chaotic climate we live in today. However, you don't have to worry. The Child Citizenship Act of 2000 is Public Law H.R. 2883 that ensures that any child you adopt from any country will become an American citizen upon the finalization of your adoption.

This Law is an amendment from the Immigration and Nationality Act that confers citizenship immediately to your new family member. The United States Department of Health and Human Services has more information on this for you.

17 What Exactly Is Going On With Healthcare?

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There has been a lot of chatter on the possible repeal and replacement of Obamacare since the current President took office. Multiple drafts of replacement legislation have gone to Congress and been largely unsuccessful. Obamacare legislation changes are now in the new tax reform package, but not much has changed. As it stands now, Obamacare is available to any American, through the Department of Health and Human Services. The only real change that has appeared from the legislative standpoint is that Obamacare is no longer mandatory.

Changes that you may be seeing at home likely include a rise in premiums and deductibles and a drop in choice of insurers. These matters aside, CBS News reports that enrollment in Obamacare is only approximately four percent lower than the previous year, and over 12 million Americans have enrolled this year.

If you can afford it, it is always a good idea to get medical insurance. You never know when Johnny could get sick or break a bone. Any moderately serious reason to visit a hospital could drain your savings.

Obamacare is alive and well, and offering many choices to millions of Americans with pre-existing conditions, that would not be eligible for services otherwise.

16 Children's Unalienable Rights

Source: Pexels
Source: Pexels.com

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989 ratified what is called today the "most comprehensive document on the rights of children." As a member of the United Nations, these unalienable rights are assigned to all American children, whether American by birth, marriage, adoption, immigration or other documented form of entry into the United States. These are the basic rights of your child. They are backed and enforced by the United Nations.

The United Nations protects children from all over the world from discrimination, exploitation, starvation, and protection from harm, no matter how they landed in their home country. A child under this law is defined as "every human below the age of eighteen years" unless an alternate law or court order has determined they have or have not obtained the age of majority in their state or jurisdiction.

So you know that "special test" your child's teacher may want to have your kid take after school hours? If cognitively capable, your kid gets a say in whether or not they want to do it. Same at the doctor's office. Parents should be very wary of anybody or anything that doesn't want the child to have some input in any major change in their lives.

15 Can Children Work? The Fair Labour Standards Act Has Laws For That

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Children today are growing up faster than they used to, and are seeking or obtaining employment at many different ages. The Fair Labor Standards Act is the document to consult when wondering whether or not Johnny is old enough to babysit for the neighbors.

Before Johnny turns 14, he legally qualifies to earn money from jobs such as babysitting, newspaper deliveries, odd jobs around the home, or in any business or services owned by you, Mom!

After the age of 14, the windows of opportunity open up a little bit for Johnny. He is free to work almost anywhere he likes. The Act does stipulate what hours he can work, however, as, until the age of 16, all minor children must prioritize school first. Johnny is not permitted to work more than 3 hours a school day, over 18 hours a week during the school year, and no more than 8 hours a day during the summer season.

When school is not in session, Johnny is not legally eligible to work more than 40 hours a week, and can not work outside of the hours of 7 A.M. and 7 P.M. in his time zone between June 1st and Labor Day of every calendar year. As Johnny ages, those stipulations open up for him a bit. There are exceptions for home-schooled children as well.

If Johnny is working for someone that is making him work beyond these regulations, the National Child Labor Committee or the United States Department of Labor are the agencies you want to get in touch with, Mom. Stat!

14 Want Princess To Be A Star? The Rules Are Different

Source: Twitter
Source: Twitter

Now, let's say while your 15-year-old Johnny is delivering papers and helping out at the restaurant on occasion, your little Princess is sending your diners rolling in the aisles every Friday and Saturday night. You secretly think she's going to be a star while your friends giggle and wink knowingly at each other that you might be out of your mind. Then one day, a talent scout just happens to order your infamous Chicken Bolognese and falls in love with your Princess's voice and your chicken at the same time. She's going to be a star! What do you need to know, Mom?

To begin with, the same set of rules apply for Princess. However, if she becomes the instant stand-up comedy hit that you'd always knew she'd be, she will likely be working for an entertainment union. Most talent scouts make those arrangements. Regardless, union rules would apply in her case. Union policies are generally written as legislation, and Princess's union dues would be her promise to abide by those policies.

Union rules for children in the entertainment business vary by state but are very similar to the Fair Labor Act. An education is a priority for children, and child entertainers are not allowed to work more than a few hours a day. They are also often required to study for a certain number of hours a day. You may be responsible for the cost of that tutor, but you also have the legal right to manage her funds and run her new business. In the Journal of Labor and Employment Law, the University of Pennsylvania details the multiple points parents of little Prince's and Princesses all across the land must know before your Boo is crowned superstar.

13 Traveling Abroad Is More Than Just A Plane Ride Away

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Now after all that hard work, it's time for you to take Johnny and Princess on a long and well-deserved vacation. Hold off on that for a second while you make sure you are well equipped with all of your travel documents. The first thing you will need are passports. Passports are very easy to apply for and get for adult American citizens, but children have a different set of rules.

In today's climate, the average American family isn't the cookie cutter unit it used to be. The definition of parents has changed. The definition of "child" is different in almost every state, and getting a passport is a very serious business. You can't just show up at the State Department and expect to walk away with traveling papers for everyone. You need to have all of your documentation in order.

When it comes to how your children obtain passports, the Two-Parent Consent Law 22 USC 213n and 22 C.F.R. 51.28 requires that both of the parents of the child consent to the child receiving a passport. If that is impossible to attain, documentation that this is the case must be available. Say for example you have full legal custody and can prove that by a court order. That court order, or any court order giving you complete legal guardianship, will serve as law with the Department of State.

12 When Is It Called Kidnapping?

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One reason the rules on passports are so strict for children is that we live in a day and age where Amber Alerts are very common. In many cases, those Amber Alerts are caused by one parent fleeing the country with the child. With both signatures being required for a passport, these threats are minimized. Your child's passport, any signatures on it, and any existing court orders would be used as supporting documentation to authorize the other parent or another family member crossing a border with your child.

The International Parental Kidnapping Crime Act of 1993, 18 U.S.C. § 1204, stipulates that it is a crime to remove a child from the country that is younger than 16 without the consent of both parents. If that happens, it infringes on the rights of one parent. Say it happens during their visitation, then it is a federal crime. The federal government takes this very seriously.

Know that once you report a kidnapping or abduction all of your information, and your child's, is immediately reported and logged into federal databases and the search for your child begins. Be very sure that Princess isn't hiding in the closet before the Feds and the suits drop by with their tracing equipment.

11 What To Expect From Child Care For Kids With Special Needs

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It's very possible that Johnny and Princess aren't old enough to be working yet, and will need someone to look after them while you are at work. There are child care laws in place that will protect both you and your children. These laws vary by state.

What if Johnny or Princess have a special need that needs accommodating while they are in day care? The American Disabilities Act of 1990 covers everything your child needs while not in your care. This law stipulates that every person in America has the same right to services both private and public. This is to help ensure that every American is treated equally. This does not mean that they will be treated the same though as the child will not necessarily have the same needs as an able-bodied child. It is in place to try to help ensure that this child has a happy childhood like any other.  Whether your child is going down the street to your bestie's while you run to the store, or you are leaving your child in a regulated facility during the day, these laws apply to your child in all situations.

Your child has the same right to services and accommodations as any other child, at the same cost.

10 Parenting Teens: The Good Kids And The Delinquents


As Johnny and Princess get older, the problems they may face on a daily basis get more serious. Teenagers can be a handful, but they can also be a significant worry. They also are more likely to run into trouble with the law than they were when they were a sweet 5-year-old performing art on your living room wall.

The United States Criminal Code applies to Johnny and Princess wherever they are and whatever they do, just as the laws apply for adults. The laws will vary by state on what age the surly teenager stops being a minor child, and some prosecutors will have the power to make that determination, as well, in the event of a crime.

At the same time, you as a parent need to know if you will be potentially held liable for any actions committed by your child. Are you letting their friends come over on the weekends? Are you sure you know what they are doing? Be careful, you could be both criminally and civilly liable if not.

Every state has "Contributing to the delinquency of a minor" law. However, each state varies in specifics. If your child is being delinquent, you could be held responsible. In California, it's a misdemeanor that carries a potential one-year-jail term, and fines across the states can get as high as $2,500. Minor in possession (of drugs or alcohol) laws also exist and vary from state-to-state, but some states allow teens to drink if they are under their parent's supervision.

9 Emancipation, Running Away, Kicking Your Kid Out

Nobody likes a surly teenager. But what happens when things escalate out of control? You could threaten to kick Johnny out, or he could be the first to threaten cutting the ties. There are laws on all of these things, largely state-specific, but very common among the states. The general rule of thumb is that emancipation can happen at 16, with some states, like California, going younger (14). Kicking a kid out or letting them run away before that puts you at risk for criminal charges of neglect and abandonment.

Yes, that's right. Princess could have a melt down because you wouldn't let her audition for American Idol, then threaten to run away. She could actually run away, pretend to be starving, and ask the police to charge you with neglect. Aren't teens grand? We know she's adorable. But, estrogen build-up in a teen's early years is a thing. Just saying. Forewarned.

So, you're going to have to find a diplomatic resolution when these matters crop up. Emancipation doesn't always happen during family battles, either. Sometimes kids use emancipation so they can move to another custodial parent that has moved across state, or emancipation helps teens make employment, education, or health care decisions for themselves that could determine their entire future.

8 COPPA – Children's Online Privacy Protection Rule

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This rule is simply called COPPA and refers to what regulations can protect Johnny and Princess when they are online. This law is to protect you and your children and to ensure that websites are handling you and your information responsibly. The first thing that COPPA does is ensure that websites that are directed towards children have certain requirements in place when it comes to how they collect information. It's not true that just anybody has a legal right to your private information or the private information of Johnny and Princess.

It's a problem that is in the news a lot already, with websites like You Tube and Facebook getting in a lot of heat over this. When you hear these stories in the news, pay attention. These incidents could lead to new laws that will protect you and your family. COPPA says that if Johnny or Princess is under the age of 13, and a website like You Tube asks for their information, the website in question needs your consent. You already may have seen this if your family uses Apple products and your child has requested to download an app on their device. If you are signed up to Family Sharing, Apple will send a notification to your device asking for permission through the form of your password entry. All websites are required to ask for this permission.

7 Family And Medical Leave - Things To Keep In Mind During A Job Hunt

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If you need time away from work for family purposes, you are legally protected by the Family and Medical Leave Act. Your employer can't fire you during an absence or because of an absence. To be clear we mean leaves of absence, not playing hooky. Every employer will handle this differently. The government stipulates this time as unpaid, but some companies could offer you a short-term leave pay or paid absence. That is at the discretion of the employer.

The government says you get 12 weeks of leave to handle family matters that include but are not limited to maternity leave. This could mean caring for a sick family member, funeral leave, sick leave, jury duty, holidays, contracts with the government, personal leave, and even some vacations. This act regulates all public offices, private offices, and any government education facility. It also covers private sector employment in companies with over 50 employees.

It may be a factor for you to consider when you are job hunting. If the company has less than 50 employees, you may not be covered in the event of jury duty or a family crisis. To qualify, you will need to have been with the company for at least one year and 1,250 hours.

6 Teens Do Not Have To Tell Mom And Dad About Visits To The Dr

You may think now that this would never be a concern for you. But nobody goes into a marriage or life situation thinking it's going to end or the worst is going to happen to you. There are life situations that could lead to circumstances where you don't have access to your own child's medical records. The HIPAA Privacy Rule allows for legislation that gives you rights to your child's medical records.

What this law tells you is that you are guaranteed access to your child's medical records but only in certain situations. Those situations would include times when your child is a minor of sound mind and age, and allows you to see those records. Say Johnny had an appointment after school with his doctor one day and didn't tell you because he was asking questions about birth control. If Johnny tells his doctor that he wants this kept private, he has that right, if the doctor thinks he is of sound mind and age.

If Johnny is five-years-old and doing this, Dr. Brown is likely going to mention it to you as a cause for concern. If he's 15 though, that may not be the case. The only remedy for this is ensuring you have an open and honest relationship with your teen. If you have that magical secret out, let us know!

Legally speaking, however, Johnny could even successfully obtain a court order to prevent you from seeing them. It sounds scary, but if you are single or divorced this also protects you and Johnny from the medical records being sent out to an estranged parent. In some cases, you may be okay with Johnny and Dr. Brown having their quiet time. In that case, you could also provide consent to not have that information shared with you. As an unalienable right, Johnny has the right to the treatment of medical conditions, and the right to participate in choosing his medical treatments, with or without you once he is of sound mind. Sorry, Mom.

5 Families Flying Together Act

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There are some families who would be sad if they started a family trip and all of a sudden weren't able to sit together on the plane due to whatever complication the airline had going on that day. Then again, there are some families that would be glad. Little Johnny and Princess might have, in their day, been happy to have their own seats and no parents looking over their shoulders to nag them to keep the tray in the upright position.

Most parents aren't too keen on being separated from their children on a flight. But it does happen. The new Families Flying Together Act of Congress will ensure that children under 13 stay seated with their families on all flights. This is your way to travel safely without the drama of disrupting the sleepy passengers beside, behind, and in front of you and your children.

4 Child Marriage - It's More Common Than You Think

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Child marriage laws have become news lately, but this is a problem that has been around for centuries. In some states, children are getting married! Congress is just starting to take action on this, refusing marriage eligibility to some children of a certain age.

In 2016, the New York State Assembly passed Bill A. 5524 which prohibits marriage before the age of 17, and 17-year-olds will need a judge to sign off on the marriage if that is what they so choose. Virginia has a similar law, and other states are just catching up such as Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Missouri, Texas, California, Maryland, Massachusetts, and New Jersey.

Legislation against child marriage is being strongly recommended for multiple reasons, including that a review of the literature illustrates it is harmful to children, both boys and girls. Studies indicate child marriage happens to one in every four girls, and is much more common than we think, well beyond the trendy news items. A 2010 study found that girls in child marriages were more likely to drop out of school and never complete college. Poverty is also a likelihood for many young teens that choose to marry, but this is expected to decrease with the new laws banning and prohibiting teen marriages.

3 Grandparent's Rights – What Are They?

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The unalienable right of every grandparent is to love and spoil Johnny and Princess as much as humanly possible. But life doesn't always work out that way. Today's family has many grandparents as legal guardians, as well as families destroyed, where children are used as pawns and grandparents are refused access to the child. There is nothing more devastating to the child than this. That is how judges view this across the country.

Grandparents today can threaten to sue for grandparents rights in the event of family drama, and it does happen. But sadly, they don't really exist legally. Many states do offer provisions for grandparents in extreme situations, but they are not entitled to access in the same way a parent or brother or sister would be. This is another one of those situations where every state is different. Every state will always put the best interest of the child first.

Most family courts will acknowledge that time with grandparents is in the best interest of the child. So before you get upset with someone's parent and are tempted to use access as a bargaining chip, maybe don't. You never want to have to be the one to explain in court why you wouldn't let Papa come to see the kids on their birthday. Few judges will have sympathy for you unless you can prove some serious neglect or criminal behavior. At the same time, it's never a bad idea to put grandparents as beneficiaries in your life paperwork in the event of a critical illness diagnosis or relocation to avoid ugly court battles for your dependents down the road.

2 Spanking Is Still Legal

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With so many horror stories of abuse flooding the airwaves, it's easy to think that something as seemingly horrifying as spanking or corporal punishment could still be legal. But it is. Why? Because there are a good number of horror stories out there that are false tales. That and, the farmers founded the Constitution and the laws of the land on good old fashioned values they often took from the Bible. Spanking was one of them. The framers thought that "sparing the rod" really would spoil the child.

This is an issue that has gone to court many times, and has even gone as far as the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court says, and will often say, we are with the farmers on this one. The Boston Globe reported on a 2015 case where the Supreme Judicial Court ruled in favor of the parents when it comes to spanking. They also noted the Supreme Judicial Court yielded a "carefully worded warning" that "safety first" was the presiding principle when it comes to corporal punishment.

This was a case where a father was hauled into court on criminal assault charges for spanking his three-year-old son. The charges were dropped.

When it comes to spanking, parents are not criminally liable for "reasonable force" so long as physical or "severe mental distress" is not done. So, Johnny, mind your Mama as the highest court in the land has given her some executive power as well.

1 Minors Indulging- It's On You, Mom!

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The notion of minors drinking is not as cut and dry as you think. The age of majority is considered 21 in the United States, and anyone caught drinking under that age is subject to criminal charges. But the Washington Post notes, in a report, that there are some states that allow for under age drinking in the presence of a legal guardian or parent. So, in other words, if Princess gets caught drinking underage and says Mama made me do it, she could legally get off charges if she was able to prove that.

The same goes for children in your home, so you want to be careful with this one. There are at least 37 states today that have a law for parents so that you can introduce your child to alcohol legally and responsibly. But teens will be teens, so you just need to keep your own parameters on that one. In New York, the Alcoholic Beverage Control Law ABC 65-C is a law that looks very similar to the 36 other states, stating that, "A person under the age of twenty-one years may possess any alcoholic beverage with the intent to consume if the beverage is given….by that person's parent or guardian".

So, yes. You have to watch for that one too, Mom. Sorry. You could always just say no. By text. In writing. Teens are gonna teen!


In conclusion, in these strange times, it is always better to be safe than sorry. These are your cubs, Mama Bear. The news cycles do not always catch the latest legislations and regulations that are rolling out for today's mom and dad,  legal guardian, grandparent, or emancipated child. It seems like a lot to know. It IS! But the truth is it is always better to be armed with your rights, before you end up needing them one day. When it comes to this world and the courts, judges and law enforcement will always take a "best interest of the child" approach. You never want to be on the wrong side of that. You never want a complete stranger having the final say on what happens to you and/or your child's life.

This is a free country and a great nation where every state is steadily working to preserve the Constitution and your freedoms. You and your child are born into it with unalienable rights. But at the same time, the beautiful hallowed halls of Congress have given you, Mama Bear, some serious executive power when it comes to determining what happens next. You are in the driver's seat when it comes to the journey of life for you and your Johnnys and Princesses. Just don't forget your passports!

Sources: Library of Congress, Department of Labor, Department of Health and Human Services, Human Rights Watch, Boston Globe, Washington Post, National Post, CBS NewsJournal of Labor and Employment Law, Find Law, Family Travel, Grandparents.com, Federal Trade Commission.

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