For many years, child labor has been a barrier to social development. Child labor has become a long-term challenge and its elimination has been set as a goal in many countries in different periods of time. Although the USA is a successful and economically powerful country, it dealt with the issue of child labor in the past. One should study the history of child labor to understand the scope of the problem.
Children have always been a cheap labor force throughout history. They were apprentices and servants in ancient times. However, child labor became widespread during the Industrial Revolution. Children were forced to work long hours in dangerous factory conditions. Moreover, their payment was very low. Children were useful because they were easier to control and manage. In most cases, children worked to help their poor families, forgetting about education and becoming ignorant. However, the nineteenth century reforms improved working conditions and restricted child labor. Consequently, this essay intends to explore the problem of child labor throughout history, its reasons, and consequences.
The Historical Outline of Child Labor
One should say that child labor included such forms as child slavery and indentured servitude throughout American history. It is evident that industrialization was a driving force for promotion of child labor as factory owners viewed them as cheaper and more manageable workforce that is less likely to strike. However, in North America, there were growing oppositions to child labor. Consequently, many factories moved to the South, and it was the place for the growth of child labor and violation of their rights. By 1990, child labor standards and degree of enforcement began to vary considerably (Mayer 5). It means that child labor began to be regarded as a serious social and economic problem that violated children’s rights.
One can divide the history of child labor in America into four periods: from the late 19th century to 1941, World War II, the late 1940s, and since the late 1980s. The first period, from the late 19th century to 1941, was characterized by the emergence of reformers insisting on more extended school attendance and removing children from the workplace. Before 1990, American children worked in a large number of home industries, canneries, agriculture, textiles, glass factories, and mines as peddlers, bootblacks, messengers, and newsboys (Mayer 10). In the early twentieth century in the U.S., the number of child laborers peaked. As the labor and reform movements grew, child labor began to decline. Consequently, labor standards began to increase and improve the political power of working people. However, the U.S. demanded other social reforms regulating child labor. One should say that global child labor reforms were also a driving force for stopping using child labor. In 1832, New England unions condemned child work. Moreover, the New England Association of Farmers, Mechanics, and other Workingmen stated that children should not be allowed to work in the factories at any time as it endangered their health and well-being (Rogers & Kenneth 20). As a result, government had to do something with poverty that forced poor families to send their children to work.
In 1836, early trade unions suggested state minimum age laws. They offered that children were allowed to work but when they were older. It was the first formal and public proposal recommending the minimum age for factory work. However, it was not the guarantee that all factories would follow those regulations. In 1836, the first state child labor law was adopted. Only children under 15 could work in factories. Moreover, they were required to attend school three months per year. The U.S. also began to limit children’s work days in 1842. Children were allowed to work up to 10 hours. It was a great progress. However, not all states followed those laws (Brown et al 30). It means that it was not justified economically, especially for manufacturers who used child labor.
In 1876, there was another labor movement urging minimum age law since the previous regulations and laws did not bring positive outcomes. Consequently, Working Men’s Party suggested banning the employment of children under the age of 14. In 1881, the American Federation of Labor banned employment of children under 14 again. In 1883, there were New York labor movements led by Samuel Gompers, who demanded that cigar making by thousands young children should be prohibited. It is evident that the struggle for children’s rights was a long and painful process. On the one hand, it was comfortable for factories to employ children. On the other hand, children were forced to work due to poverty and social issues. Moreover, in 1904, National Child Labor Committee was organized, forming the national campaign for beginning of the federal child labor law reforms. Another step related to the solution of the problem of child labor was the implementation of federal law sanctions in 1916. When minimum age laws were violated by factories, then the movement of their goods across state lines was prohibited (Brown et al. 20). However, the problem was that those sanctions were not effective as they were related to the economic growth or failure. Child labor did not support only families economically but contributed to the development of manufacturing.
Child labor in America was part of economic reality that was widespread due to the high poverty rate. Child labor abolition was not expected at that period as those efforts were useless. Moreover, a number of factories emerged increasing the need of child workforce. One should say that the struggle was not against child labor but rather against some aspects of the factory system. It means that the society was not against child labor. The society and government did not cooperate but acted independently, having their vision of that issue (Riney-Kehrberg 120).
The problem of the first period of the child labor history was that children grew without receiving even a moderate education. Such a consequence was enormously harmful due to the growth of the ignorant generation. Long work weeks deprived children of studying. Moreover, they were very thin, sick, and passive. They did not have time for playing and did not know about childhood. For this reason, in 1813, there was a law that obliged manufacturers to provide working children with arithmetic, writing, and reading lessons. That law was ineffective as children were exhausted and could not learn after the work.
The second period, during World War II, was the period of the necessity of child labor due to the increase in the production and struggle with the crisis. There were modifications of work restrictions for older children. As a result, children were old enough to become useful employees. In 1892, Democrats adopted union recommendations to ban factory employment for children under 15. The problem is that the federal regulations failed again in 1924, reinforcing the idea that the problem of child labor could not be solved with the help of laws and regulations. The country needed the social reforms that would help overcome poverty. In 1936, Walsh-Healey Act was passed, prohibiting the purchasing of goods made by underage children. It was a problem for factories, but they continued to use child labor illegally.
World War II was a driving force for the industry expansion and mechanization. As a result, child labor was really oppressive. Children at 6 to 7 years old could be recruited to work 13 hours a day in dusty and hot factories for miniscule wages. The statistics shows that the largest number of small children worked in the south of America as the laws and regulations about child labor were not implemented there. Moreover, the statistics reveals that children’s earnings were necessary for feeding families that suffered financial hardships. One should say that the financial issues would have been harder if child labor had been forbidden.
In the third period, the late 1940s, many young people did not have the opportunity to study at school and did not have the work because they were supposed to be unprepared in terms of discipline and training. It was a transition period that was unstable and socially difficult.
The fourth period, since the late 1980s to the present days, remains problematic as the child labor is related to child trafficking. Sex tourism and tourist destinations of the USA encourage children to work, thus putting them under the threat of being trafficked. The orphaned and street children are forced to work even in the modern time due to poverty and other social issues. One should mention that child labor is supported by families that are ready to traffic their children and engage in commercial sex activity to get profits. It should be mentioned that the nineteenth century reformers and labor organizers wanted to restrict child labor, but it could lead to the market crash (Jafarey & Sajal 140).
The nature of child labor in the U.S. has changed over the last years. At present, only teenagers who are part-time students can work as most attention is paid to education and improvements of economic conditions. The unique history of the USA shows that there were oppressive types of child labor, but they managed to change the situation, implementing the laws and regulations, improving social and political life, and overcoming social issues. However, it does not mean that it is enough as there are other threats related to the problem of child labor. One should say that child slave labor exists in the USA today. For example, Wal-Mart, Sears, Pillsbury, J.C. Penney, Chi-Chi’s Mexican restaurants use child labor. In most cases, these are children from the developing countries. However, it damages the American reputation in the world.
The Reasons for Child Labor and its Consequences
The leading factors associated with child labor are involvement in a criminal gang, alcohol or drug addiction, sexual or physical abuse, infrequent school attendance, and poverty. Some children look for work to be independent from their parents and spend their money as they wish. Others are supporters for their families. One should say that child trafficking is the key reason for child labor. Children can be trafficked as sex slaves, workers for organized criminal groups, and soldiers in armed conflicts. They can be involved in the dangerous and hard work in the agricultural and mining areas abroad.
The key reasons for child labor are the following: the contribution to the family, the means of self-actualization, family dynamics, and poverty. The history of child labor shows that children work to contribute to their families, especially those that have many children. In developing countries, this is the key reason for the popularity of child labor. Most children regard themselves as part of the family; as a result, labor is a moral duty for them. The consequences for the child working for the purpose of contributing to the family are the following: poor childhood, lack of time for leisure activities, and absence of time for studying. Therefore, children grow ignorant, sad, and with poor health (Rogers & Kenneth 20).
Another reason for child labor is that children want to try themselves in any work. It is their way for self-actualization. Some children work even when there is no necessity for this. The consequences of such an act will be both positive and negative. The positive consequences include the following: children will become more hard-working, and they will know the value of labor. The negative consequence is that children will have no time for studying.
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In conclusion, one should say that the history of child labor in America consists of four periods: from the late 19th century to 1941, World War II, the late 1940s, and since the late 1980s. The history shows that child labor was preconditioned by the economic and political situation and social issues that demanded the involvement of child labor. There were numerous reasons for child labor: contribution to the family, the means of self-actualization, family dynamics, and poverty. It is evident that child labor is a social phenomenon that is urgent even in the present days, especially in the developing countries. The problem of child labor has two sides. The positive one is related to the growth of the hard-working and persistent young generation. The negative side includes the possibility of sexual slavery, trafficking abroad, and poor academic achievements. The consequences of child labor are the following: poor learning or absence of studying, poor health, lack of time for entertaining, and unhappy childhood. Moreover, children can be trafficked abroad and sold into slavery. As a result, one should not regard the problem of child labor as the issue of the past as in the present times it can have different forms and become even more dangerous.