Child labor is the idea of forcing adolescent children into hazardous tasks working under ruthless circumstances and surrounded by an unsafe environment. Children are valuable and precious therefore, they should not be mistreated and allowed to experience misery and suffering at such a young age. Problems, disagreements, injuries, and death have all been caused by child labor. Child labor was the worst issue that provoked acute social, mental, and physical damage to America.
“We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” (The United States Constitution) The preamble of the U.S. constitution was made for plenty of reasons; one of those reasons was to prevent practices such as child labor to somehow disappear in America.
Residents of the United States of America want a “more perfect union”. Words in the preamble such as justice, defense, tranquility, and liberty are the absolute opposite of child labor. Why would America be referred to as an almost “perfect” nation while child labor still progresses? Why would the fellow citizens of America say there is justice in America when there's child labor practiced there? These notable questions apply from the height of child labor in the 19th Century until today of the 21st century.
Children labored around perilous machinery and went through arduous conditions at a very young age, usually 16 years and under. Adolescent children were forced to work intense hours and were paid low wages or no payments at all which eliminates the purpose of having the U.S. preamble in the constitution since people hope to “establish justice”. Employers were foul and did an awful attempt to supply the children at work with a safe and healthy surrounding. The circumstances children persisted brought several forms of harm toward the children.
They were paralyzed by industrial incidents, defaulted appropriate movement and clean fresh air, and became vulnerable to diseases. These children took the risk at death enduring cruel conditions to support their families. Overseers also practiced physical punishment by having whipping rooms for children that misbehaved, slept while working, and were too slow. In coal mines, children were filthy, harnessed like animals, and had to drag heavy loads on their fragile backs behind them.
They suffered pain for all day and tolerated injured hands, aching backs, the fear of getting squashed to death by coal, and sickness from breathing in coal dust. Breaker boys worked above ground, picking slate and other blemishes from coal. By doing so they often got a skin condition called “red tips” caused by sulfur from the coal contacting with skin, making their hands cracked, bloody, and swollen. Breaker boys also inhaled coal dust because of the process of coal mining released poisonous gases which could result in throat trouble or respiratory illness.
Their faces were black and filthy covered with coal dust. Machinery in the mines, especially coal crushers were menacingly noisy and often led to hearing loss and on those rare unfortunate days, a boy fell into the coal crusher. Mining tunnels have collapsed as well, hindering and disabling workers to their death while spreading disease from rat infestation. “Joseph Martonik, about 15 years of age. Caught in the machinery and horribly mangled. Aug. 31, 1910 Cranberry Colliery. If he had obeyed instructions, or if the machinery had been properly protected, the accident might not have happened.” (Hindman 101)
Besides breaker boys in the mines there were hippers, boys who opened doors from mining cars that were often ran over. There were also spraggers, boys that kept the mining cars moving and once in a while boys got an arm or leg jammed in and sliced off. In factories, machines ran so quickly and rapidly that tiny fingers, arms, and legs were entangled in them. Since factories put out odors and toxins, it destroyed the pure air nearby which caused illness and metronomic conditions. In canneries, children as young as 4 years labored in festering surroundings for long hours and received little pay.
They had to peel shrimp from their shells that gave a spiteful chemical, making their gentle hands bleed and peel. In textile mills life was woeful and unhealthy. The mills were freezing in the winter and humid in the summer. Girls in the textile mills did the more skillful work as spinners which “was to watch rotating bobbins for breaks in the cotton. When the cotton broke the little girl had to quickly mend it and then brush the lint from the machine frame.” (Greene 55) Boys did the simple job as doffers which was to replace empty bobbins.
Children lost fingers or hands in the machinery that spun the bobbins. In rural areas such as farms, children harvested crops in extreme temperatures, carried stacks of produce, and used ominous farming equipment. Children were doing menacing tasks by topping beets. They held a beet against the knee and cut off the top with a 16 inch knife that had a sharp prong on the end. Too often, children accidentally hooked themselves in the leg with the knife. (58) Street trades, working on the streets, faced children into the wrong direction with physical dangers and bad influences.
These children worked early in the morning for long hours outdoors all season in the worst weather which could cause illness and or death. Standing on the ground for hours led to orthopedic defects. They took the risks of muggings, terrible weather, and car or bike injuries. Young girls sold flowers, gum, fruits, and vegetables on the streets. Newsboys were on the streets as early as 5 am. and sometimes worked in the evening past midnight which was unhealthy for their age. These children worked about 16 hours a day instead of attending school.
There were two kinds of sweatshops. The first kind was composed of compact manufacturing businesses in vile establishments. Many people died in fires because workers were locked in the rooms they labored in to guarantee that they would work for the entire 10-12 hours mandated and could not escape no matter the situation. In those rooms, children finished embroiders and sewed pieces of garments or piecework. Workers were paid by what they completed rather than the numbers of hours.
The other kind of sweatshop was located in tenement houses which were crowded, insufficiently vaporized buildings overrun with rodents. It isn't necessary to actually see the children laboring under repulsive conditions in pictures or in reality to feel their pain, to give them compassion, and to realize how inferior the idea of child labor really is. Just by reading or hearing about the details of children laboring in poor circumstances can enable one to see beyond their teary eyes. The history of child labor begins in the late 19th century when the Industrial Revolution triggered in England which eventually arrived in America.
The Industrial Revolution was the time when hand tools were replaced by machines and farming was substituted by manufacturing. Discoveries in science and technology fueled a significant change in the society. Sequences of inventions entered America, altering the textile industry. The textile industry was the first business to become industrial. The inventions introduced at this time period brought changes upon commerce and peoples' lives. With these new adjustments in the populace, children became exploited by employers and were misused extensively.
Children were often targeted even in the modern-world. The growth of factories obliged people to endow them, therefore, employers ventured young children into factories. There was an abundant amount of children which made them easily exchangeable if they died or quit Adults usually have more power amongst children because of age and probably wealth. Thus, adults can easily manipulate or force children into employment.
The children from poor families which was the majority, were mostly aimed at since they were in need of money to keep their family above poverty level. Even children as young as three made an effort to help their families by working. Children have always worked ever since the beginning of refinement like chores around the household. At first, the general population believed that hiring children was beneficial to the child and the community. The child would stay out of troubles and won't be a burden. Children can become more independent and gain maturity.
America presumptively accepts child labor because “the government didn't record the national statistics on employed children” so people weren't involved on what was happening. (20) Working children also kept production prices short which evoked the nation to be economical beyond the sea. Child labor assumed to be a national trend. However, while employing children became such an interest, adults were losing their jobs to children because they were hired for less money compared to adults, but with the same, possibly more hours.
As industrialization of child labor continued to evolve, people began to acknowledge the evils of it. This generated the idea of reforming child labor. Reformers formed the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. The SPCC prepared a restrictive factory bill for the New York state council. They wanted to forbid factory work for children under 14 years young. Moreover there was too much disagreement to this consideration but this downfall gave the organization more hope and motivation to sustain. Soon, New York passed the Factory Act of 1886 which restricted children below the age of 13 from working in factories and farms.
Unfortunately this policy was inadequate and unenforceable. There would only be one inspector that had to examine all the factories in the state and was indulged to report violations just once a year. In addition the evidence of a child's age was determined without an official document. In 1904, residents in America collaborated to compose the National Child Labor Committee. This committee believed that children needed to enjoy a vigorous and delightful puerility instead of being roused to work. If not, they would be denied the opportunities that every American deserved. (38)
The NCLC constructed the Uniform Child Labor Law in 1910 which demanded a minimum age of 14 years for manufacturing employment and 16 years of age mining. They also encouraged restraint of night-work for children below 16 years young. Dramatic photography, photographed by Lewis W. Hine who was the photographer of the NCLC, rotated around the states, giving mankind access to see America's children acted under brutal milestones. The photographs of young children at work helped the NCLC acquire the public's attention.
With their concern, 39 states passed child labor policies which definitely satisfied them, but the laws were not enforced and were misunderstood from it's intentional purpose. The reform of child labor arose tensions against those who opposed the idea, in particularly the South. The South feared that if the NCLC became successful, employers would have to hire adults which were paid more than children and would decrease stock prices. People argued that child labor rules would dissuade manufacturing and the children wouldn't be able to gain maturity in preparation of adulthood.
In between the middle of the war to eliminate child labor, a Great Depression commenced. It changed political perspectives in America and availed Child labor reform. In 1938, Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act also known as the FLSA. This act forbid employment in mining or manufacturing for children under 16 years of age while children below 14 years of age were able to work as long as it did not counteract with their education or health. In actual fact, the law only protected about 25% working children. (69)
In 1944, the United States joined World War II and at this time, laboring provisions slightly improved. Younger children barely worked because school was in session. The toils the children did were much less odious and adverse than before.
Children also became curtailed to work in coal mines or glass factories. The war ended in 1945 yet child labor still flourished. However, after the war, Congress passed the Occupational Safety and Health Act and organized the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. OSHA was assigned to oversee the country's industries and ensure that they followed the regulations. Enforcing child labor laws had frequently been tough since there were not enough inspectors who were supposed to authorize the FLSA which means the Department of Labor inspects only half of the businesses in America.
Furthermore, penalties have never been sufficient enough to hinder felons. In 1989, violators paid only a $165 fine that can easily be recovered by doing more business. Presently, Congress changed the FLSA on November 5, 1990 which made the utmost penalty for child labor violations be increased to $10,000. The federal government endured a explicit deal to evict child labor and restore peace to the children of America.
“Child labor as it once was no longer exists.” (73) Several of the events that happened in America during the 19th century impacted America positively. There was the Louisiana Purchase and the new states added into the Union which provided more land in the U.S. There was also the elimination of slavery, gaining woman’s rights, and the new inventions that were created. The wars such as the War of 1812 and the Mexican War were not as meaningful as the issue of child labor. When men died in battle, they died with honor.
When children died in factories by the horrid conditions, they died with despair. Men have already passed their childhood, unlike children who have obviously not. Child labor, although it is outlawed and isn't as commonly used as before, still exists. Children are still determined to work just as adults are. They choose to work to earn their own money to be able to purchase items independently and most importantly to support their families. Now, teenagers work under youth employment where children work around a healthy environment with fair wages.
Most teenagerswork in the food industry or the entertainment industry. Nowadays, there are still sweatshops in America that violate the child labor laws and neglects the health and safety of their workers. The conditions from the 19th century is similar to the working conditions today. Youngsters labor in crowded, squalid buildings with horrible ventilation. Even though the law restrains children under 18 years old from using powered machines, inspectors saw children in New York enduring around dangerous machinery in factories for very small earnings.
Toilets were also improperly functioned and workers ate their lunch on the cluttered, untidy workshop ground beside machinery that released chemicals. Newspapers are still sold on the streets by children usually in their own neighborhood. Even today, children are constantly prone to pesticides on their human flesh when they make contact against leaves and inhale toxins that surround them at work, without having access to medication or sanitation. “Today no society anywhere in the word advocates child labor. Indeed most nations have laws outlawing it.
Yet child labor continues and, according to a United Nations report, is a growing evil.” (10) Will child labor still occur in America? How can any nation like the Untied States completely end child labor? When will child labor no longer exist? Is there hope for the future in becoming “perfect”? Perhaps the answers will come very soon. In a nation that people tend to believe is “perfect”, still contains flaws and imperfections.
Child labor was definitely the most ghastly, heinous dilemma in America during the Industrial Revolution that stimulated rigorous damage both psychologically and morally. Hopefully sometime in the future, the world can officially announce the end of child labor.
Eastern Illinois Universaty.10 February 2012 <http://eiu.edu/eiutps/childhood.php> Foner, Eric., and Garraty, John. 10 February 2012 <http://history.com/topics/child-labor> Gourley, Catherine. Good Girl Work. Brookfield, Connecticut: The Millbrooke Press, 1999. Greene, Laura Offenhartz. Child Labor: Then and Now. New York: Franklin Watts, 1992. Hindman, Hugh. Child Labor. An American History. Armonk, New York: M. E. Sharpe, 2002.