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 .