'Kid Nation': Reality TV Gone too Far?

CBS show leaves 40 kids to start a new society and stirs up controversy.

ByABC News via logo
January 8, 2009, 1:43 AM

Aug. 23, 2007 — -- New CBS reality series "Kid Nation" is at the center of controversy.

The show features 40 children, ages 8 to 15, placed in the New Mexico desert with the goal of creating a society. And it's all in an effort to win tens of thousands of dollars in prize money.

The show has raised questions about whether child labor laws were violated and whether or not the children were exploited.

In the spring, a group of parents waved goodbye to their kids and put them in the hands of a television production company for six weeks.

For 40 days, the 40 kids worked to build their own society, free of adult influence and free of many modern-day luxuries: no electricity, no indoor bathrooms and no school. The contestants worked from sunup to sundown every single day prompting the initial controversy.

At the beginning of filming in April, New Mexico's Workforce Solutions Department received a tip from California, suggesting that it send inspectors to the set to investigate whether child labor laws were being broken.

But the inspectors never made it onto the property. A spokesman for the Workforce Solutions Department says CBS never told any state authority what was happening at the ranch.

"It wasn't until midway through the production that we learned they were actually out there," said Carlos Castaneda of the New Mexico State Labor Department. "We had no idea and that's very unusual when a production comes into New Mexico."

In May, another anonymous complaint came that children "were unattended" and four children had accidentally "drank bleach" while one was "burned in her face with hot grease."

"It sounds to me like these kids were exploited. Think about it. If we have child actors on a movie set or a TV show, their hours, their working conditions are very carefully regulated by the state," Court TV anchor and former civil rights lawyer Lisa Bloom said. "They have to have tutors on the set. These kids were six weeks away from school."