Child Labor in the US Industrial Revolution

3172 words (13 pages) Essay

5th Aug 2019 History Reference this


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Going to work for a whole day isn’t very amusing after working fifteen hours the day before! 70- 80-hour work days are never fun in anybody’s mind. But how is it that a lot of people did this during the Industrial Revolution? Was it because they needed the additional money? Or was it because they desired high financial or political rank. For some people, these were the reasons, but for the most, it was merely due to one concern. Survival! The industrial revolution had commenced at that period, and as a result, factories and machinery were built which meant that the cities were thriving and therefore many migrants and several low-income families were in search of jobs. Most of the jobs available required no education neither did they need any physicals.  Children had always worked in the family business whether it was in agricultural or in a workshop due to the financial crisis. But child labor dramatically increased when America progressed through the Industrial Revolution. This new advancement opened a unique opportunity for cheap labor. Children were now needed to work in coal mines, factories, and textile mills. These were not ordinary jobs for young children because it required hard work, strength, and time. Since many business owners demanded this type of labor many children were put to work in extreme conditions which left a terminal impact on the children.

     At first, it was common to witness young children working happily on the farm with the parents. The young boy will help his father milk a cow, or with his farmland whiles, the young female will help her mother in the house to cook, and clean. This whole family dynamic changed when many migrants decided to migrate to the United States in search of better opportunities. Between the 1890s and the 1900s, the number of children working under the age of 16 nearly doubled and most of these children working in the factories came from poor and migrant families. These children who were sent out to contribute financially to the household income were as young as five years old. On average, the amount of labor a child worked a day became much worse during this period because many parents were afraid of falling into poverty.  Factory work for a child consisted of 12 to 18 hours of work per day for six days a week. Most shifts would last from 7 am to 5 pm.  Many of those children worked for more than the 18 hours documented by the government. Under all those wearisome hours resulted in a payment of one dollar a week, and some children did not even receive any payment at all. Child labor was a terrible problem during the Industrial Revolution. In a modern day society, if a child was to work about 72 to 108 hours per week that child would receive an average of $1,170 for all those hours. According to the Victorian web, many children who worked sixteen hours a day worked under extreme conditions, and many employers preferred them because they didn't complain and they were very obedient.  As a result, they were often used since their small size allowed them to work in small spaces where adults were not able to fit. They were also easier to control, cheaper and less likely to strike back at the employer.

Although many of the children working in the factories had to make extra income to support their family, their work had a detrimental impact on their health. The machines and equipment that the children were working with were extremely hazardous. Coal mines tractors and factories all had a high danger level. Many lines of machinery that obtained open gears would regularly cause injuries. Many children easily got caught underneath rubles whiles other children also lost their arms, fingers, legs and other body parts due to the running machinery. Other injured children also died out of untreated infections. In as much as one will think that the government was compensating all these injuries, they were not. Just like others, a 16-year-old boy lost his right leg and arm in the factory, even after he had worked there for more than two years nobody stopped by to compensate or see how he was doing.  Many of those injured children worked like slaves, but yet the factory owners had no sympathy for them and would only go on and employ more children leaving the disabled children to fend for themselves helplessly. These wave of inhuman treatments from employees towards these children was an epitome of child labor. The conditions of the factories were not simple but yet many parents could not restrict their children from working. For example, when an interviewer asked Joshua “why do you permit your children to go to work” he said, “necessity compels a man that has children to let them work.” No human can blame a parent for thinking in that manner because at that time many families were starving and malnourished. Neither were they making enough money as parents. Public schools were even open at that time, but many families could not pass on the opportunities for their children to bring more income.

Factories were significant for the exploitation of children as a means of production. Without the bloodshed of these children working in the textile factories, the industrial revolution would not have persisted.  For every day that a child went to work, he or she was treated unfairly and cruelly. Some children were even beaten and left under harsh conditions without food. With the long hours that they worked, many children were only given one break time throughout the 19 hours of their shift. When their work was terrible, some couldn’t eat and were obligated to take their food home or risk the chances of it being fed to the pigs. It was so difficult for some of the children to be focus due to the lack of food and rest. But most employees paid fewer regards to that and kept the tired children to the running machine to keep them focus. Even if they happen to run a few minutes late, they were brutally beaten as a result. A young boy lost two of his fingers while working an eighteen-hours shift, he overslept and accidentally switch on his equipment.  The boy was exhausted and famished, yet he couldn’t call out from work because he was afraid of losing his job.

Moreover, Jonathan Downe in his interview in June 1832 also stated that when he was seven years old, he witnessed a care-keeper taking a young boy into the corner of a room and “dipping” the boy's leg in the “cistern” for having to sleep at work. All those evidence shows why many children who began work at age five either there before 25 or got sick throughout their lifespan. The effect of industrialization has caused the lives of many children to be short-lived due to their injuries. Throughout all this, nobody not even the government paid attention to what was going on to those children. On top of many children getting injured in the factories, working conditions for other children outside the factories were brutal as well. Those who decided to shell shrimps would shell shrimps every day making their fingers bleed as well as the added acid and salt water would make the pain even much more severe. Those who decided to work indoors also suffered from air pollution because there was no air ventilation, and many of them still worked in these contaminated rooms without breaks. In all honesty, it is with no surprise to see why the fatality rate for those children was very high. They all lead to the brutal working conditions that occurred during the industrial revolution. When relating this to accidents, children who pick cotton in the fields also suffered brutally under the hot scorching sun. For according to Freedman as early as sunrise these children will do this motion “pick, pick, pick, drop into the bag, step forward, pick again” until the sun went down all because they wanted to survive. Therefore, they made the sunshine in the cotton fields blind their eyes to think about the overwhelming abuse that they were enduring as children.

One will ask; where was the government during all those abuses? Unfortunately, the federal administration at that time did not have the authority to end child labor unless that form of work was correlated to interstate commerce.  The laissez-faire policy opposed the interference of the government in regards to their economic affairs. Therefore, actions to stop child labor was merely in the control of the states. By 1902, the abuses of child labor were still at the forefront during the progressive era in an attempt to end it. So the national child labor committee succeeded in passing the first Act putting an end to child labor during that period. Unfortunately, the bill was denied and was deemed unconstitutional by the supreme court. Due to the majority of the members being businessmen, they were so quick to strike down the bill without sympathizing with the children in regards to what they were facing.  In the year 1922, Congress also passed a second law which restricted the exploitation of any child by creating the right to fair wages and limited working hours for children. At that time this seemed like it was going to work but many states violated these strict laws, and several business workers didn’t follow it as well. But the majority of the ordinary people were against the child labor laws because the majority of them had no education. England also had their scandal of abusing the rights of children during their industrial revolution, but the people of United States did not have enough compassion or humanity to learn from England’s experience. No child should be blamed for child labor for it is not their fault. The deaths of many innocent children should be placed upon the factory owners for they should be ashamed for making a livelihood out of the sacrifice of these children.

Another issue that was prevalent during this time was the lack of education that the children had. Education is power and knowledge is the key to obtaining success. Although these children were helping their families, they were also hurting themselves by not enrolling in school. Many children did not enroll in school due to the intensive hours at work and the times they had off they most likely wanted to relax. As a result, it contributed to uneducated American society since the majority of them were made up of the lower middle class. This grew into an illiterate adult generation because it was very challenging for them to move from one social level to another due to financial instability as well as education. Finally, to put an end to all these issues, the government made sure that the third law which was the Fair Labor Standard Act was strictly passed in 1938. This law restricted child labor and was designed to protect the educational opportunities of the youth by making sure that children under the age of 16 were restricted from working in dangerous jobs such as the factories. However, children under the age of 14 and 15 could still be employed as long as they were outside of school and their jobs were not hazardous. The Fair Labor Act also ensured that children were paid for overtime and time and a half. All these regulations made sure that children would have better health and prosperous future along the way.

In spite of all these efforts to end child labor, in recent years, child labor still occurs in other countries. For example, in India, about 70 to 115 million underage children are being employed, and almost half of those children do not receive payment for their labor. India is home to the most significant number of child labors in the world.  Due to the high level of economic crisis in that country children are being exposed to a higher risk than adults. Most of the children who are working in child labor belong to a low caste system in Indian. The caste system is a huge factor in the social condition of a family. Due to this factor, many children are forced to leave their homes, and many recruiters go into those villages in search of cheap labor. This is unjust because, at this particular stage of development, their mental and physical capacities are still being formed. Therefore, they are more vulnerable to accept any job offer. Although in 1989 India adopted the United Nations Conventions on the Rights of the Child in an agreement to treat children fairly, equally and with dignity. These laws were violated by the business owners.  Under this same laws, many under-aged children were seen sitting for more than 18 hours packing cigarettes. Under this same laws, the right to develop all children, the right to all education, and the right to play were all denied under the authority of a government who did not strictly enforce and monitor these laws. Child labor infringes on the rights of a child to fully express themselves against any exploitation and abuses.

Furthermore, about 80% of these children were working in the agriculture sectors in India whiles others were working for other households as domestic child labor. Most of these domestic workers face physical, emotional and sexual abuses from their employers. Some owners even hide the children in sacks and will beat them up until he or she was fully satisfied. According to NY Times, many children were often slapped and beaten with leather belts. But yet no parent, not even the child could speak up against this violence because the child was bonded to that family and he/she was seen as a slave. Most bonded labors in India were mostly migrant groups who came from the caste system. This also makes them more open to neglect and exploitation. It is so sad that these working children are so eager to go to school and have an education, but yet children in America dropped out of school due to drugs, and violence. Reading through the Humanium's article, the reason why all these injustices continue to take place shows the government is not devoted to the nation, and that is why Indian is among the most poverty-stricken nations in the universal. They are few places where education is free, and it is horrifying to see that countries such as India and Kenya are a manifestation of children falling through the cracks. Manufactures in the textile industry all over the world such as America are also guilty for performing illegal subcontracting activities through embroidery. One of American’s multi-billion-dollar global fashion company also known as GAP was found liable for hiring young children for child labor. Many customers have purchased from their clothing line unknowingly, and approximately half of those children have died working for GAP and other clothing companies.

The government could have stopped all these issues that many countries including India are still facing if they genuinely cared about human rights being made equal to everyone regardless of age or gender.  For all these issues could come to an end if education is made free to all the children. Without knowledge, many children are powerless, and their dreams of a brighter future are entirely shuttered.  If children are enrolled in schools, it dramatically cut down their chance of being injured and crippled. Children could still work, but just like in America this laws should be strictly enforced. The India government needs to be strict on how many hours children can work, where they are allowed to work, their break times, as well as any other regulations such as abuse, needs to be prohibited in other to ensure the safety of these working children.

To conclude, there is a need to explore the topic of industrial revolution especially in regards to how immigration changed the scope of working children. Due to the poor living conditions that many migrants faced, children became slaves to their factory owners. In as much as they were being paid many children were put under hazardous working conditions just because they were forced to help with the survival of their family. But as soon as society noticed that the dramatic conditions were negatively impacting the children, they realized they had to end this. Therefore, they implemented strict child labor laws which stop the crisis that was bound to destroy many generations.


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