Child Labor is a term used to represent the employment of minors in work that may interfere with their education, or endanger their health. Throughout the ages and in all cultures children joined with their parents to work in the fields, in the marketplace, and around the home as soon as they were old enough to perform simple tasks. The use of child labor was not regarded a social problem until the introduction of the factory system during the industrial revolution. Villages had grown into towns and cities. Factory profits had boosted the economy, and more food was available.
The population was growing as a result of better health care and nutrition. The Revolution first took advantage of Britain’s largest industry, textiles. In the 1600’s, cotton cloth imported from India became popular. British merchants organized a cotton industry for themselves. They developed a pulling out system in which raw cotton was brought to peasant families who then spun it into cloth. Skilled artisans then finished and dyed the cloth. Under the pulling out system, production was very slow. As the demand for cloth grew, inventors came up with ways to make the cotton industry more efficient.
In 1764, James Hargraves invented a spinning jenny that spun many threads at a time. A few years later, Richard Arkwright invented the water frame which used waterpower than spun cloth even faster, the new machines put an end to the pulling out system. They were costly, and too large to fit inside peasants home. Instead, factures built long sheds near fast moving streams to power the machines. Later, machines were powered by steam engines. Spinners and weavers came to work everyday in the factories. The revolution brought rapid urbanization. The great demand for factory workers grew as more factories were built.
Small villages turned into cities practically overnight. Some villages that only had a population of 17,000 people had increased to 40,000 in just a few years. Workers lived in crowded tenements that had no running water or sanitation system. Factory work was stressful and dangerous. Shifts lasted from 12 to 16 hours. Adults made up 18 shillings a week, and children made a meager 3 to 4 shillings. Tired workers often had accidents while working with machines due to sleep deprivation. A person might loose an arm or leg while trying to fix a machine. Textile workers constantly breathed in air filled with lint and dust particles.
If a worker happened to be ill, or injured they would lose their job. The environment a child worked in during this time period was very dangerous. Textile mills were crowded and poorly ventilated causing such diseases as fossy jaw, black lung, and other fatal lung diseases. In the factories candles were used for lighting. These easy to knock over light sources were a huge fire hazard. Poorly heated, dim factories full of unskilled workers put many innocent children in danger. The lack of knowledge about machinery caused workers to be crushed, mangled, or beaten to death in belts.
Often polluted and unsanitary buildings caused much death and illness . Generally the living quarters of laborers were poorly built, rotting, even falling down, with little ventilation. There was no indoor plumbing which caused people to throw human waste on unpaved streets. Houses were often crowded and rented by the room or even by the corner. Dirty floors and leaky roofs did not stop people from living in over crowded basements and attics. The majority of the work day, young workers spent without their family. The factory system split up families for as much as fourteen hours. The time they did
have together was either spent eating or sleeping. Young daughters developed no housewife skills because they were working and their working mothers were not there to care for and teach them. The role or father was decreased since he was not the sole supporter of the family. Many children worked to earn more money for their families. Factory owners hired orphans and made deals with local authorities who were happy to take to take the children off their hands. Children caught not doing work were either punished, fired or severely beaten. In the 1830’s and 1840’s, lawmakers took notice of abuse in factories.
Children as young as five years old worked 12 hour shifts, most had no schooling and were malnourished. Slowly Parliament started making laws to protect children in the workplace. Despite its major importance, education played a very small role in the lives of children. In the Victorian Era there was a belief that education was not needed. Few working kids had more then two or three years of schooling. In 1840 only twenty percent of the youth population had any schooling at all. In 1870 the Education Act was passed stating that all children ages five through ten, must attend school.
Yet, it was not until 1881 before the act became nation wide. Many children tried to avoid school mainly because of the hot, noisy, and unsanitary classroom environment. School buildings were inadequate along with schoolteachers. Most of the teachers were not properly trained. Children often picked work over school due to the fact that working earned them money while school earned them nothing. “The Factory Health and Moral Act of 1802” stated that children must receive schooling in reading and math. On Sundays, they should attend Sunday school and receive 2 complete sets
of clothes. The Act also stated that male and female workers sleep in separate quarters, and work no more than 12 hours a day. These hours had to be between 6am and 9pm. The Factory Act in Britain made restrictions on how many hours a child could work in a day. Children were allowed to work between the hours of 5:30am and 8:30pm. Night hours were prohibited. Children from 9 to 13 years of age could work 9 hours. Children from 13 to 18 years of age could work 12 hours. Any child under the age of 9 was not allowed to work. To make sure factory owners followed this law, the
government hired inspectors to enforce it. These inspectors produced reports of their visits. The reports became a very valuable source of information about child labor in 19th century Britain. The Report of Inspectors of Factories from 1878-1890 gives information on the number of children hired in textile factories. The number of children working decreased from 56,000 to 33,000, based on this information, local officials came to the conclusion that the law was being followed. One inspector’s report in 1850 describes what lengths factory owners would go through to deceive inspectors.
One factory owner hid the children in restrooms and crawl spaces to avoid being caught. Michael Sadler was born in 1780. He demonstrated a huge concern regarding the abuses of child labor. He led an attack on the abuses of child labor by. investigating the conditions of textile factories. He demanded that the government step in and put a stop to horrible treatment in factories. He got parliament to gather up children from factories and listen to their stories. He interviewed a large number of workers and published a report. This report was considered one of the most informative of its time.
This report is what sprung the Factory Act of 1833. The report asks how many hours each child worked, what happened if the were caught not doing work, and how long their breaks were. The document expressed how horrible conditions in the factories actually were. Most people were completely oblivious to the abusive treatment of the workers, others just didn’t care. The document helped people understand the factory workers plight and try to do something about it. More people knew and more protested on inhumane factory conditions. In conclusion, children were often mistreated and subjected to the poorest
of working and living conditions. This time period was characterized by the use of children to help develop the economy. Child laborers received less than the essentials needed at home, school, and at work. The life of a young worker was in essence a life of a slave. Many reforms were made to protect the working children in 19th century Britain. Michael Sadler’s report was the stepping stone for reforms that eventually made the factory atmosphere a better one. Many people had to die in order to be heard. It is because of the children’s previous suffering that we as young people are protected by labor laws today.