Child Labor1

Child labor first appeared with the establishment of
the domestic system. The domestic system was a process
through which entrepreneurs would purchace raw
materials that would be “put out” to the homes of many
families and be made into finished products that could be
sold by the entrepreneurs. The families were paid by the
piece, and so the adults would use their children to their
fullest capability to aid in some way. The domestic system
was prominent in England, on the Continent, and in North
America during the 16th 17th and 18th centuries. This
system still exists in some countries throughout the
Along with the Industrial Revolution of the 18th
century came a new ststem to replace the previous
domestic system. The new system was the factory system.
Children were used in this system from as young as the
age of five. Children were used extensively to tend the
machines. Children were also used in coal mines, from as
young an age as six. These children would work long hours
in the dark and damp mines, often carrying coal in packs on
their backs up long ladders to the surface.
During the 1830’s the English Parliament decided to
create an investigation into the mistreatment of child
laborors. One child in a textile mill testified that he began
working when he was eight years of age and since that
time had been working from six o’clock in the morning to
eight o’clock in the evening, with one hour to break at
twelve o’clock in the afternoon. Sometimes, when business
was brisk he would work a sixteen hour span from five in
the morning to nine in the evening. When questioned on how
he awoke and was on time for work, the boy said “I seldom
did awake spontaineously; I was most generally awoke or
lifted out of bed, sometimes asleep, by my parents.” A girl
who worked in the mines said that she worked from five in
the morning to five at night. She had no time to stop for
meals or rest, she would work continuously and eat as she
worked. When asked about her tasks that she had to
perform in the mines, she said “I carry the buckets (filled
with coal) a mile and more under ground and back. I carry
eleven a day; I wear a belt and chain at the workings to get
the buckets out; the miners that I work for sometimes beat
me with their hands if I am not quick enough. They strike me
upon my back. I would rather work in a mill than in a
During the Industrial Revolution there were many
children who had no parents or parents who were too
financially unstable to care for them. At the time there was
a law called the English Poor Act, through which government
officials were supposed to take these children, called
“pauper children”, and arrange for them to become
apprentices so that they would have the ability to learn a
trade and be in a stable and caring enviornment. In
thousands of cases these “pauper children” were simply
handed over to mill owners by the officials, and thus had no
one to care for them and were no more than slaves to some
degree. Other children were indentured, or sold, by their
parents to rendor their services to a mill owner for a
All of these harsh conditions that children were
subjected to were results of the widespreak beliefs of the
time. Employers believed that business and government
should be seperate. In addition to the harsh conditions and
long hours that the children had to endure, a terribly low
salary was paid. This was because businessmen felt that
wages could not possibly exceed a subsistence level. This
was commonly referred to as the “iron law of wages.” Also
at the time idle hands were believed to be the devil’s tools,
while work was thought to be morally uplifting, so the
employers believed that they were helping the poor to
The eventual regulation of child labor resulted from
many sources. Working conditions were horrid; the children
had to work in crowded and unsanitary areas and thus many
epidemics arose. Medical professionals exclaimed that child
labor gave rise to a permanently weakened work force.
People were concerned because children had no time for
religious instruction. There was no time for education.
Concern grew to the point where something had to be done.

Children also worked in the American colonies.
Conditions for children that worked in the colonies were the
same as in England. In the 1800’s some states passed
protective legislation. Massachusetts passed a law in 1836
requiring that schooling be given to children that were
working. Connecticut passed a law in 1842 that created a
maximum amount of hours that a child could work in a textile
factory in a day, which was ten. Pennsylvania passed a law in
1848 banning mill owners from hiring children under the age
of twelve. By 1900approximately half of the states placed
restrictions on child labor, but only about ten made serious
attempts to enforce them. The south was finally
industrializing, and textile manufacturing moved from New
England to the south to take advantage of the closeness of
the raw materials and the cheap labor. The south appeared
extremely likely to subject children to the harsh conditions
that children in England once experienced.
In other parts of the United States the glass industry
employed boys for twelve hou shifts in front of fiery
furnaces.The domestic system lived still in the garment
industry, and in coal fields boys manned the “breakers.” Here
they sat hunched over shutes as coal poured beneath them and
they picked the pieces of slate and stone from the coal. These
boys endured ten hour stretches of breathing in coal dust.
The insufficientness of the state laws soon became
visible. The result of this realization was a series of
national laws. The movement for the national laws was
sparked by “muckrakers”, or journalists who exposed
intolerable conditions. The push for reform was helped by
these words by a reformer, Sarah N. Cleghorn:
The golf links lie so near the mill
The laboring children can look out
In 1912 Congress was persuaded to establish a
Children’s Bureau. The fight to achieve fair working
conditions for children had appeared over in 1926 when
President Wilson got the Keating-Owen Act passed, but the
law was repealed in 1918 by the Supreme Court on account of
it being unconstitutional. It barred form interstate commerce
articles produced by child labor. A final option to regulate
child labor successfullyn would be to create an amendment. It
took until 1938 for an act to be passed, this act was called
the Fair Labro Standards Act, also known as the Wages and
Hours Act. This act, along with its amendments is now the
basic child labor act for the United States. It bans employers
involved in interstate commerce from sublecting children
under the ages of 16 or 18 to hazardous conditions. Under
certain circumstances, children 14 to 16 may work a limited
number of after school hours. States may further regulations
so long as they do not oppose constitutional limitations.
Child labor remains a problem in only one area in the
United States today. This area is agriculture. Federal law
only states that children under 16 may not work in the field
of agriculture during school hours. As a result of this small
restriction small children may be worked for long hours.

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Restrictions have become strong, however, on the issue
of child labor. Today in the United States children under the
age of 18 have restricted amounts of hours that they may
work, depending upon the time of year and the type of work.
For example, in the fields other than farm work, newspaper
carroer, and street trades, a child between 14 and 15 may
work a maximum of three hours on any given school day and
eight hours maximum on any other day. When school is not in
session, meaning vacation, children between 14 and 15 may
work a maximum of eight hours on any day.
Restrictions are in place in the areas of farm work,
newspaper carriers, and street trades, as well as all other
trades than these, and are strictly enforced by the United
States government. These laws have been instituted and
strongly enforced to prevent any further subjections of
children to harsh working conditions that could hurt them
physically and could take away from basic freedoms.
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