History of Child Labor
Throughout most of human history, children had been working long hours in jobs that today are typically filled by adults. Children have worked as servants, apprentices (trainees), laborers, and more. They would be paid less than adults, work in dangerous conditions, and were easily controlled and managed compared to adults. Even a child's smaller size was used as an advantage because they could easily access some of the small spaces required with some tasks. Many child laborers supported their family and did not receive an education. They worked and did not attend school.
During Colonial Times, child labor was not unusual or controversial. Children did as much work as the adults, on family farms of with handicrafts. Children were a part of the economy, sometimes hired by nearby farmers. Boys would begin training for certain jobs or trades between ages ten and fourteen. Child labor on farms and with trades did begin to decline at the beginning of the nineteenth century (1800s), but the children moved to factory employment.
Factories in England and the United States began using children to run the machines used by factories. The machines did not require the strength of an adult and they could be paid less money. They may have worked between 12 to 18 hours each day, six days a week, and earn a total of one dollar. Some children began working at the age of seven in spinning mills and hauled heavy loads from place to place. The factories were not safe, often dark, damp, and dirty as well. Many children became sick. In addition, there were children who worked in coal mines. They had no time to play, go to school, or rest. Their days would consist of working, eating, and sleeping.
In 1810, there were about 2 million school-aged children working more than 50 hours each week, and most of them came from poor families. If parents were unable to pay for their children's needs, they would be turned over to a mill or factory owner. In one location, a glass company in Massachusetts had been fenced in with barbed wire so the children would not escape.
By 1900, in the United States, about 18% of all workers in America were under the age of 16. In cotton mills, about 25% of the workers were under age 15, but and half of them were under the age of 12. Throughout the United States and England, people became outraged at the conditions and treatment of the children. Things first began to change in England when laws were passed between 1802 and 1878, which did not outlaw child labor, but shortened a child's work hours, improved conditions, and raised the age at which children could work.
In America, things did not change dramatically until the Great Depression, when the economy collapsed, and people believed that child workers must be replaced by adults who needed jobs. By 1899, 28 states passed laws related to child labor and many efforts took place to pass a national law, but the Supreme Court ruled them unconstitutional. In 1938, Congress finally passed the Fair Labor Standards Act, which set the minimum age of 16 for workers during school hours, 14 for after school hours, and 18 for dangerous work.
However, there are still some kinds of work not regulated, such as farming. The children of migrant workers are permitted to work alongside their parents and farmers may legally employ them outside of school hours. Finally, every country in the world does not have laws regarding child labor. As of the mid-2000s, there are still about 218 million child laborers in the world, and more than half of them are working in dangerous and hazardous jobs.
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