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History of Child Labor

Buzzle Staff Oct 30, 2018
History of Child Labor can be traced in some dark realms of industrialization. But a more detailed study of this heinous, shameful practice can reveal that child labor was present, much before industrialization in various forms like child slavery.
Child labor is the act of employing children in order to make them work at lower pay. This practice is considered to be exploitative in many countries and international organizations. Earlier, child labor was not a big problem as children as young as 4-5 years would accompany their parents to aid in agriculture, coal mining, weaving, and other jobs.
The Industrial Revolution brought up the dispute over child labor, as schooling became more important, and concepts of laborers and rights of children gained more prominence.
The history of child labor skyrocketed with the industrial revolution, as it saw children working in factories, mines, and even having his own small business like selling food, flowers, becoming shoe blacks, matchbox makers, and laundry boys and girls.
Some children worked as tourist guides, some set up small shops of their own and some opened up restaurants in their backyards and worked as waiters and cleaners. Some children however, chose to be street actors and singers.

The Story of Child Labor

Children working in factories were forced to do jobs of high stress levels like assembling boxes, handling dangerous chemicals, and toxins, undergoing severe physical and mental fatigue and trauma, facing the risk of injury, disability, amputation and even death.
Many jobs had children held up in small houses doing various jobs and were not within the reach of officials and inspectors. Most controversial forms of child exploitation included military use of children and child prostitution.
History has witnessed many children involved in military campaigns despite being against the cultural morals. It was a custom for youths from the Mediterranean basin to serve as aides, charioteers, and armor bearers to their adult counterparts. A few examples can be found in Bible (David serving his King Saul), Greek Mythology (Hercules and Hylas).
In Greece, this practice was considered to be an educational tradition, and the Man/Boy couple was considered to be an efficient fighting force. Hitler Youth (Hitlerjunged or HJ) was an official organization in the Nazi Army. During the Battle of Berlin, this youth force was a major part of the German Defenses.
Child labor was not new to the world, during 1780 and 1840, there was a massive increase in child exploitation. During the Industrial revolution, it was very common to find children working in factories. In 1788, more than 60% of workers in textile mills of England and Scotland were children. Many laws were passed to remove child labor, but hardly succeeded.
By now, many people were aware of increasing demand for educated workforce and the upper class people started to rule over the poor kids. The demand for educated workforce provided all the extra reasons for kids to join school. But there were parents who could not afford to send their kids to schools, and thus kids started to work in factories, mines, mills.
In mines, children were to crawl through tiny pits to reach the coalface, and were required to operate on the ventilation ports. In mills, this child workforce grew annually. 
Out-working others and working longer hours, with greater intensity was the dream each child harbored, and this would mentally challenge them. Children were brainwashed to believe that, labor was all life had to offer and they had to prove themselves at it.

Child Labor in United States

Families in the USA, led lives which were dominated by their employers. Their company would pay them with overpriced goods of the company, and allocate them houses in the company owned villages. For these amenities, the entire family would work for more than 72 hours a week, with men for heavy, women and children for lighter works.
The companies were manipulative as well.  The laws of state became stringent and regulated work conditions, limited the child labor. But these laws were not applicable to immigrants and now the companies would exploit the people living in slums, make them work longer hours, for a small pay.
Many US states enforced laws to restrict the employment of young children in industries. But this had no effect on the rural communities as children were working in the farms, mills and factories.
The National Trades' Union Convention made the 1st ever proposal to the government, stating that a minimum age for work be set for kids to work in factories and other jobs. In the same year, Massachusetts proposed the 1st ever State law, which required children below 15 years, who were working in factories, to undergo 3 months of schooling each year.
Massachusetts reduces the working hours for children to 10 hours a day. This law is emulated and passed by other states in United States.

The Working Men's Party (WMP) proposed that children below the age of 14 be disallowed and banned from working in factories.
Following on the same lines as the WMP, the American Federation of Labor passes a resolution, during its first national convention. This convention aimed at spreading the message to all states, that they too should enact laws that prohibit children under 14 years of age from working.
The NYU, New York Union, became fully involved in the prohibition of child labor and heavily sponsored enactments that would, prohibit children from working in cigar processing and manufacture. Mr. Samuel Gompers was the man responsible for this positive move, even though he himself was a cigar maker and leader of the union.
The Democrats join the bandwagon as well, demanding more protection or children below the age of 15.

The laws in America were always ignored, until 1904, when the National Child Labor Committee was formed by concerned people. This committee was chartered by Congress in 1907.
When these people visited industries to inspect if they violated laws, young children were rushed out of their sight. Often the owners said that these children had come to the factory or mill for paying a visit to their mothers, or were helping their mothers.
The committee, mobilized popular support by publicizing about the depraved conditions and hardship faced by children in chemical factories, mills and heavy machine industries. The concept of public schooling and compulsory education were intertwined with the banning of this loathsome practice.
The objective was to initiate state level laws restricting and increasing the age bar, for children, so as to delay their inception into the paid labor market. The permissible limit during that time was 12, 14, or 16 years, varying from one state to the next.
A controversial federal law is passed, which prohibits the movement of goods, across state lines, if in case the manufacturers or sellers are actively hiring children to work for them.
The United States Congress passed a constitutional amendment, which gave authority to the federal government, so as to regulate child labor laws more effectively. However, this amendment was rejected and not ratified by many states and thus never passed into an act. This attempt failed the second time in 1937, and was left untouched.
The first ever boycott was initiated by Walsh Haley Act, as per which the United States government refused to purchase goods, which were manufactured through child labor. The act reduced the working hours for children above 14, to 8 hours daily, and 40 hours a week. Health and safety measures were reinforced.
After many attempts, many states passed stringent laws, and banned child labor. Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act, known as Federal Wage and Hour Law. This became constitutional in 1941 after a declaration by the US Supreme Court. According to this act, no child would work more than 40 hours a week, the minimum wage would be 40 cents per hour.
Minors below 16 are not to work in those industries which are classified to be hazardous. There were no age restrictions for children to work in non-hazardous environment. Children were to work only outside their school hours and during vacations, but only for limited hours.
The more things change, the more they remain the same; in this case it stands true. Child labor is prevalent and ever increasing in these times of global economic meltdown, where kids are cheaper and easily tamed.