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This commentary is based on the classroom activity: Child Labour in the Collieries
Q1: Describe the different work that children did in the collieries.
A1: Children were mainly employed to transport coal (sources 1, 2, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 14, 16, 17 and 19). Children also worked as trappers (sources 1, 13 and 14).
Q2: Why did most children dislike working in the collieries?
A2: Trappers often complained they did not like working on their own in the dark (see sources 3, 5 and 7). Children also disliked the long hours. Rosa Lucas (source 6) points out: "I go down (the mine) between three and four in the morning and sometimes I have done by five o'clock in the afternoon." These long shifts left them feeling exhausted. Anne Eggley (source 7) said: "I am very tired at night. Sometimes when we get home at night we have not power to wash us, and then we go to bed. Sometimes we fall asleep in the chair."
Working in the mines was also very dangerous. Alexander Macdonald (source 9) claimed when he was 47 years old, that when he first started work "there were some 20 or more boys besides myself, and I am not aware at this moment that there is one alive excepting myself". Rosa Lucas was a victim of one of these accidents: "I was sitting on the edge of a tub at the bottom, and a great stone fell from the roof on my foot and ankle, and crushed it to pieces, and it was obliged to be taken off.
Children interviewed by the Children's Employment Commission Report (source 14) often complained about being beaten by adult miners. Another cause of complaint concerned working conditions. This included working in low and narrow underground passages (sources 2, 16 and 20) and carrying heavy sacks of coal (2 and 7). Another factor was the heat underground. Isabella Read (source 17) stated that "when the weather is warm there is difficulty in breathing".
Q3: Why did the colliery owners like employing children?
A3: Robert Hugh Franks (source 16) an inspector of mines in Scotland, reported that children were used to mine and carry coal in narrow and low underground passages "crawling on hands and knees". Charles Vane, 3rd Marquess of Londonderry (source 23), argued in the House of Lords that there were strong economic reasons for employing young children in mines: "In the thin coal mines it is more especially requisite that boys, varying in age from eight to fourteen, should be employed; as the underground roads could not be made of sufficient height for taller persons without incurring an outlay so great as to render the working of such mines unprofitable." In the words of Janet Selkirk (source 20) the "roads are so low and narrow that small persons only can pass".
Q4: Why did Thomas Tooke believe that it coal mining was a healthy occupation for children?
A4: Thomas Tooke (source 12) claimed that coalmining was a healthy form of employment. He argued that carrying coal "greatly develops the muscles of the arms, shoulders, chest, back and legs".
Q5: Select evidence from this unit to show that the 1842 Mines Act did not bring an end to child labour in the collieries.
A5: In source 27, Eric Hopkins, the author of A Social History of the English Working Classes (1979) points out the 1842 Mines Act stated that no children under the age of 10 could be employed underground. However, Peter Kirby, (source 28) the author of Child Labour in Britain, 1750-1870 (2003), argues that "underground inspection" was very difficult because of "widespread - and often violent - opposition among employers and miners". Even, the man behind the legislation, Anthony Ashley-Cooper (Lord Shaftesbury), admitted that underground inspection was "altogether impossible, and, indeed, if it were possible it would not be safe... I, for one, should be very loath to go down the shaft for the purpose of doing some act that was likely to be distasteful to the colliers below". Kirby points out that the "Mines Act tended to be applied only where it was in the interests of colliery owners".
It was not until 1872 that the age was raised from 10 to 12 and eventually to 13 in 1903. However, this legislation was not rigorously enforced and source 25, shows 12 year-old John Davies at work at a colliery in South Wales in 1909.
Q6: Why is it important for a historian to look at a wide-range of different sources when writing a book on what it was like to be a child working in a colliery?
A6: The owners of coalmines and the people who they employed often disagreed about what the conditions were like underground. Thomas Tooke (source 12) claimed that coalmining was a healthy form of employment. Campaigners against children working in coalmines disagreed that it was a healthy occupation. They argued that working long-hours in set-positions, when young, caused bodies to become crippled. It was also feared that the coal dust and damp conditions in mines were responsible for other long-term health problems.
The historian also has to take into account the opinions of adult miners. According the manager of the South Heaton Colliery (source 21): "Of the children in the pits we have none under the age of eight, and only three so young. We are constantly beset by parents coming making application to take children under that age, and they are very anxious, and very dissatisfied if we do not take the children... there have been cases in times of brisk trade, when the parents have threatened to leave the colliery, and go elsewhere if we did not comply".
The owners of coalmines were aware that if they lost the freedom to employ young children in the mines they would have to pay adults to do this work. This would inevitably increase their costs and reduce their profits (source 23). The owners of coalmines had good economic reasons for denying that this work had a bad effect on the health of their child workers.
Therefore, a historian would get a very distorted picture of what life was like for a child working in a mine if he or she only studied sources provided by the owners of coal-mines. Therefore a historian writing a book on this subject would want to study sources that reflected a wide-range of different opinions about children working in coalmines.
Child Labour in the Collieries (Commentary) - History
Featuring the original photo captions by Lewis W. Hine
Left - Furman Owens, 12 years old. Can't read. Doesn't know his A,B,C's. Said, "Yes I want to learn but can't when I work all the time." Been in the mills 4 years, 3 years in the Olympia Mill. Columbia, South Carolina. Mid - Adolescent girls from Bibb Mfg. Co. in Macon, Georgia. Right - Doffer boys. Macon, Georgia.
Left - A general view of spinning room, Cornell Mill. Fall River, Massachusetts. Mid - A moment's glimpse of the outer world. Said she was 11 years old. Been working over a year. Rhodes Mfg. Co. Lincolnton, North Carolina Right - Some boys and girls were so small they had to climb up on to the spinning frame to mend broken threads and to put back the empty bobbins. Bibb Mill No. 1. Macon, Georgia.
Left - One of the spinners in Whitnel Cotton Mill. She was 51 inches high. Has been in the mill one year. Sometimes works at night. Runs 4 sides - 48 cents a day. When asked how old she was, she hesitated, then said, "I don't remember," then added confidentially, "I'm not old enough to work, but do just the same." Out of 50 employees, there were ten children about her size. Whitnel, North Carolina. Mid - The overseer said apologetically, "She just happened in." She was working steadily. The mills seem full of youngsters who "just happened in" or "are helping sister." Newberry, South Carolina. Right - Jo Bodeon, a back-roper in the mule room at Chace Cotton Mill. Burlington, Vermont.
Left - A small newsie downtown on a Saturday afternoon. St. Louis, Missouri. Mid - A group of newsies selling on the Capitol steps. Tony, age 8, Dan, 9, Joseph, 10, and John, age 11. Washington, D.C. Right - Tony Casale, age 11, been selling 4 years. Sells sometimes until 10 p.m. His paper told me the boy had shown him the marks on his arm where his father had bitten him for not selling more papers. He (the boy) said, "Drunken men say bad words to us." Hartford, Connecticut.
Left - Out after midnight selling extras. There were many young boys selling very late. Youngest boy in the group is 9 years old. Harry, age 11, Eugene and the rest were a little older. Washington, D.C. Mid - Newsboy asleep on stairs with papers. Jersey City, New Jersey. Right - Michael McNelis, age 8, a newsboy [with photographer Hine]. This boy has just recovered from his second attack of pneumonia. Was found selling papers in a big rain storm. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Left - Francis Lance, 5 years old, 41 inches high. He jumps on and off moving trolley cars at the risk of his life. St. Louis, Missouri. Mid - Fighting is not unusual here. In the alley, 4 p.m. Rochester, New York. Right - Where the newsboy's money goes (an ice cream vendor). Wilmington, Delaware.
Left - At the close of day. Waiting for the cage to go up. The cage is entirely open on two sides and not very well protected on the other two, and is usually crowded like this. The small boy in front is Jo Puma. South Pittston, Pennsylvania. Mid - View of the Ewen Breaker of the Pennsylvania Coal Co. The dust was so dense at times as to obscure the view. This dust penetrated the utmost recesses of the boys' lungs. A kind of slave-driver sometimes stands over the boys, prodding or kicking them into obedience. South Pittston, Pennsylvania. Right - Harley Bruce, a young coupling-boy at Indian Mine. He appears to be 12 or 14 years old and says he has been working there about a year. It is hard work and dangerous. Near Jellico, Tennessee.
Left - Breaker boys, Hughestown Borough, Pennsylvania Coal Co. One of these is James Leonard, another is Stanley Rasmus. Pittston, Pennsylvania. Mid - A young driver in the Brown Mine. Has been driving one year. Works 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily. Brown, West Virginia. Right - Breaker boys. Smallest is Angelo Ross. Pittston, Pennsylvania.
Left - View of the Scotland Mills, showing boys who work in the mill. Laurinburg, North Carolina. Mid - 9 p.m. in an Indiana Glass Works. Right - Some of the young knitters in London Hosiery Mills. London, Tennessee.
Left - Young cigar makers in Engelhardt & Co. Three boys looked under 14. Labor leaders told me in busy times many small boys and girls were employed. Youngsters all smoke. Tampa, Florida. Mid - Boys in the packing room at the Brown Mfg. Co. Evansville, Indiana. Right - Willie, a Polish boy, taking his noon rest in a doffer box at the Quidwick Co. Mill. Anthony, Rhode Island.
Left - Day scene. Wheaton Glass Works. Boy is Howard Lee. His mother showed me the family record in Bible which gave his birth as July 15, 1894. 15 years old now, but has been in glass works two years and some nights. Millville, New Jersey. Mid - A boy making melon baskets in a basket factory. Evansville, Indiana. Right - Rob Kidd, one of the young workers in a glass factory. Alexandria, Virginia.
Left - Oyster shuckers working in a canning factory. All but the very smallest babies work. Began work at 3:30 a.m. and expected to work until 5 p.m. The little girl in the center was working. Her mother said she is "a real help to me." Dunbar, Louisiana. Mid - Shrimp pickers, including little 8-year-old Max on the right. Biloxi, Mississippi. Right - Johnnie, a 9-year-old oyster shucker. Man with pipe behind him is a Padrone who has brought these people from Baltimore for four years. He is the boss of the shucking shed. Dunbar, Louisiana.
Left - Manuel the young shrimp picker, age 5, and a mountain of child labor oyster shells behind him. He worked last year. Understands not a word of English. Biloxi, Mississippi. Mid - Cutting fish in a sardine cannery. Large sharp knives are used with a cutting and sometimes chopping motion. The slippery floors and benches and careless bumping into each other increase the liability of accidents. "The salt water gits into the cuts and they ache," said one boy. Eastport, Maine. Right - Hiram Pulk, age 9, working in a canning company. "I ain't very fast only about 5 boxes a day. They pay about 5 cents a box," he said. Eastport, Maine.
Left - Camille Carmo, age 7, and Justine, age 9. The older girl picks about 4 pails a day. Rochester, Massachusetts. Mid - Three boys, one of 13 yrs., two of 14 yrs., picking shade-grown tobacco on Hackett Farm. The "first picking" necessitates a sitting posture. Buckland, Connecticut. Right - Six-year-old Warren Frakes. Mother said he picked 41 pounds yesterday "An I don't make him pick he picked some last year." Has about 20 pounds in his bag. Comanche County, Oklahoma .
Left - Twelve-year-old Lahnert boy topping beets. The father, mother, and two boys (9 and 12 yrs.) expect to make $700 in about 2 months time in the beet work. "The boys can keep up with me all right, and all day long," the father said. Begin at 6 a.m. and work until 6 p.m. with an hour off at noon. Fort Collins, Colorado. Mid - Eight-year-old Jack driving a horse rake. A small boy has difficulty keeping his seat on rough ground and this work is more or less dangerous. Western Massachusetts. Right - Norris Luvitt. Been picking 3 years in berry fields near Baltimore.
Left - After 9 p.m., 7-year-old Tommie Nooman demonstrating the advantages of the Ideal Necktie Form in a store window on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. His father said, "He is the youngest demonstrator in America. Has been doing it for several years from San Francisco to New York. We stay a month or six weeks in a place. He works at it off and on." Remarks from the bystanders were not having the best effect on Tommie. Mid - Joseph Severio, peanut vender, age 11 [seen with photographer Hine]. Been pushing a cart 2 years. Out after midnight on May 21, 1910. Ordinarily works 6 hours per day. Works of his own volition. All earnings go to his father. Wilmington, Delaware. Right - In business for himself. Boston, Massachusetts.
Left - A Bowery bootblack in New York City. Mid - Bowling Alley boys. Many of them work setting pins until past midnight. New Haven, Connecticut. Right - George Christopher, Postal Telegraph, age 14. Been at it over 3 years. Does not work nights. Nashville, Tennessee.
Left - A boy carrying hats in New York City. Mid - Young boys working for Hickok Lumber Co. Burlington, Vermont. Right - Three young boys with shovels standing in the doorway of a Fort Worth & Denver train car.
Left - A Jewish family and neighbors working until late at night sewing garters. This happens several nights a week when there is plenty of work. The youngest work until 9 p.m. The others until 11 p.m. or later. On the left is Mary, age 7, and 10-year-old Sam, and next to the mother is a 12-year-old boy. On the right are Sarah, age 7, next is her 11-year-old sister, 13-year-old brother. Father is out of work and also helps make garters. New York City. Mid - A family working in the Tifton Cotton Mill. Four smallest children not working yet. The mother said she earns $4.50 a week and all the children earn $4.50 a week. Husband died and left her with 11 children. Two of them went off and got married. The family left the farm two years ago to work in the mill. Tifton, Georgia. Right - Picking nuts in dirty basement. The dirtiest imaginable children were pawing over the nuts and eating lunch on the table. Mother had a cold and blew her nose frequently (without washing her hands) and the dirty handkerchiefs reposed comfortably on table close to the nuts and nut meats. The father picks now. New York City.
Left - Killing time. Mill boys and men hanging around Swift's Pool Room, Saturday p.m. A common sight any day. Educational influences bad stories and remarks – will not bear repetition. Fall River, Massachusetts. Mid - Messengers absorbed in their usual game of poker in the "Den of the terrible nine" (the waiting room for Western Union Messengers). They play for money. Some lose a whole month's wages in a day and then are afraid to go home. The boy on the right has been a messenger for 4 years. Began at 12 years of age. He works all night now. During an evening's conversation he told me stories about his experiences with prostitutes to whom he carries messages frequently. Hartford, Connecticut. Right - Juvenile Court. An 8-year-old boy charged with stealing a bicycle. St. Louis, Missouri.
Left - A group of newsies playing craps in the jail alley at 10 p.m. Albany, New York. Mid - 11 a.m. Newsies at Skeeter's Branch. They were all smoking. St. Louis, Missouri.. Right - Richard Pierce, age 14, a Western Union Telegraph Co. messenger. Nine months in service, works from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Smokes and visits houses of prostitution. Wilmington, Delaware.
Left - Getting working papers in New York City. Mid - Children on the night shift going to work at 6 p.m. on a cold, dark December day. They do not come out again until 6 a.m. When they went home the next morning they were all drenched by a heavy, cold rain and had few or no wraps. Two of the smaller girls with three other sisters work on the night shift and support a big, lazy father who complains he is not well enough to work. He loafs around the country store. The oldest three of these sisters have been in the mill for 7 years, and the two youngest for two years. The latter earns 84 cents a night. Whitnel, North Carolina. Right - Some of the workers in the Farrand Packing Co. Baltimore, Maryland.
Left - At 5 p.m., boys going home from Monougal Glass Works. One boy remarked, "De place is lousey wid kids." Fairmont, West Virginia. Mid - A few of the young workers in the Beaumont Mill. Spartenburg, South Carolina. Right - Fish cutters at a canning company in Maine. Ages range from 7 to 12. They live near the factory. The 7-year-old boy in front, Byron Hamilton, has a badly cut finger but helps his brother regularly. Behind him is his brother George, age 11, who cut his finger half off while working. Ralph, on the left, displays his knife and also a badly cut finger. They and many youngsters said they were always cutting themselves. George earns a dollar some days usually 75 cents. Some of the others say they earn a dollar when they work all day. At times they start at 7 a.m. and work all day until midnight.
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Child Labour in the Collieries (Commentary) - History
Child "hurriers" working in mines. From official report of the parliamentary commision.
That the shameful practice of child labor should have played an important role in the Industrial Revolution from its outset is not to be wondered at. The displaced working classes, from the seventeenth century on, took it for granted that a family would not be able to support itself if the children were not employed. In Defoe's day he thought it admirable that in the vicinity of Halifax scarcely anybody above the age of 4 was idle. The children of the poor were forced by economic conditions to work, as Dickens, with his family in debtor's prison, worked at age 12 in the Blacking Factory. In 1840 perhaps only twenty percent of the children of London had any schooling, a number which had risen by 1860, when perhaps half of the children between 5 and 15 were in some sort of school, if only a day school (of the sort in which Dickens's Pip finds himself in Great Expectations ) or a Sunday school the others were working. Many of the more fortunate found employment as apprentices to respectable trades (in the building trade workers put in 64 hours a week in summer and 52 in winter) or as general servants — there were over 120,000 domestic servants in London alone at mid-century, who worked 80 hour weeks for one halfpence per hour — but many more were not so lucky. Most prostitutes (and there were thousands in London alone) were between 15 and 22 years of age.
Many children worked 16 hour days under atrocious conditions, as their elders did. Ineffective parliamentary acts to regulate the work of workhouse children in factories and cotton mills to 12 hours per day had been passed as early as 1802 and 1819. After radical agitation, notably in 1831, when "Short Time Committees" organized largely by Evangelicals began to demand a ten hour day, a royal commission established by the Whig government recommended in 1833 that children aged 11-18 be permitted to work a maximum of twelve hours per day children 9-11 were allowed to work 8 hour days and children under 9 were no longer permitted to work at all (children as young as 3 had been put to work previously). This act applied only to the textile industry, where children were put to work at the age of 5, and not to a host of other industries and occupations. Iron and coal mines (where children, again, both boys and girls, began work at age 5, and generally died before they were 25), gas works, shipyards, construction, match factories, nail factories, and the business of chimney sweeping, for example (which Blake would use as an emblem of the destruction of the innocent), where the exploitation of child labor was more extensive, was to be enforced in all of England by a total of four inspectors. After further radical agitation, another act in 1847 limited both adults and children to ten hours of work daily.
Recent Work on Child Labor
Humphries, Jane. Childhood & Child Labour in The British Industrial Revolution . Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016. [Recommended by Ruth Richardson]
The State of Modern Child Labor
In January, Chipotle Mexican Grill was fined $1.4 million for an estimated 13,000 Massachusetts child labor violations, the most significant child-labor case in state’s history. The violations, which occurred across six locations, were for employing minors beyond the maximum legal number of hours. Burger King, Qdoba, McDonald’s, and Wendy’s also paid fines for similar child labor violations in the last year.
Child Labor Today
The words “child labor” may seem outdated, spurring images of young children working industrial jobs in a different era. While children are rarely found in manufacturing or mill operation jobs that gave rise to American child labor laws, child labor still exists in the United States.
Today, there are 21.2 million “youth” workers in the United States with large influxes every summer when kids are out of school. The Bureau of Labor Statistics classifies “youth” as 16 to 24-year-old workers, though most industries may legally employ youth as young as 14-years-old. The United States has more of its youth in the workforce than any other developed country in the world. The largest percentage of youth workers is in the leisure and hospitality industry, which includes food services, followed by retail, education, and health services. Employers need only pay workers under 20 a “youth minimum wage” of $4.25 an hour for the first 90 days, which grafts well with students’ summer breaks and makes youth workers attractive in low-wage jobs.
The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is the federal baseline for child labor law. However, within child labor laws, agriculture stands as a category of its own. United States labor law allows children to work in agricultural jobs at much younger ages than in other industries. For other sectors, the FLSA allows 14 and 15-years-olds to work but limits the number of hours. Generally, employees who are 16 or older may work unlimited hours in occupations other than those deemed hazardous. However, about half of states impose hour restrictions beyond that of the FLSA for youth workers.
Very few states go beyond FLSA’s hourly requirements for 14 and 15-year-old workers. Florida and Colorado further restrict the maximum hours they may work, and only California prohibits children under 16 from working altogether unless they have completed the 7th grade. States are split on hour requirements for minor workers 16 and older. Twenty-three states impose widely varying hourly standards, on average, prohibiting 16 and 17-year-olds from working over 8 hours per day and 40 hours per week. The other 27 states impose zero restrictions for the number of hours that a minor 16 or older may work.
Child Labor Law Rollbacks and Violations
In any given week, an estimated 153,600 children work in violation of child labor laws with the most common breaches as working excessive hours or working in hazardous occupations before the age of 18. The highest number of child-labor violations occur in the leisure and hospitality industry, which includes food services.
Employers have become increasingly lazy concerning child labor violations for three reasons: (1) states have generally rolled back child labor protections in a push to increase the number of youth workers, (2) child labor violations are an issue that is difficult to identify and combat, and (3) enforcement is rare due to lack of resources. As a result, employers have paid little attention to child labor requirements when filling staffing needs.
First, the general trend has been to loosen the reins on child labor laws. In 2011, Newt Gingrich said it was time to relax our “truly stupid” child labor laws. Missouri state legislator Jane Cunningham, who proposed removing restrictions on hiring kids under 14 and on hourly requirements, reasoned, “we’re not doing students any favor by telling them, ‘You cannot work.’” In 2011 and 2012, several state legislatures rolled back child labor protections. For example, Missouri cut the number of child labor violation investigators, Maine raised the hours a minor is allowed to work from 20 to 24 per week, and Wisconsin lifted the restriction on the number of hours 16 and 17-year-olds can work during a school week. The reasoning put forth is a kind of bootstraps ideology: kids should work to gain experience and develop a work ethic. The Trump administration continued the trend when the DOL proposed a new rule to allow 16 and 17-year-olds to work in occupations previously deemed hazardous.
Second, child labor tends to be an “invisible problem.” Youth workers hold a job on their own accord, making them unlikely to lodge a complaint or flag an investigation when working impermissible hours or in hazardous industries. Unlike wage law violations where a complainant willingly cooperates to be paid deserved wages, child labor violations do not incentivize youth workers to sound the horn.
Lastly, child labor laws are difficult to enforce. The Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor is the federal agency charged with enforcing every aspect of the FLSA, to which child labor laws are only a portion. In 2005, for example, the division devoted less than 5% of its total investigatory time on child labor matters. The division only has 730 inspectors to monitor employers and holds other responsibilities beyond monitoring child labor law violations. Thus, enforcing child labor law often falls on states, over half of which do not impose protections for minors beyond the FLSA.
The result is that employers turn a blind eye to child labor requirements. If history is a guide, employers may feel that bending the rules around youth employment is encouraged, or at least, unlikely to be enforced. Additionally, when unemployment was at its lowest in decades, the food-service industry struggled to find low-wage workers. Fast-food restaurants, in particular, have opened at an explosive rate over the last twenty years, oversaturating the market. As a result, employers in desperate need of low-wage workers may feel more apt to bend the rules surrounding minors to fill these positions. It is also possible that because child labor laws vary significantly from state to state, national employers fail to monitor the differences.
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey has personally lifted the curtain on child labor violations, achieving settlements with Qdoba, Wendy’s, and Chipotle for over 15,000 offenses. Healey’s investigators found that Chipotle regularly required 16 and 17-year-old employees to work beyond the state hourly limits, 9-hours daily, and 48-hours weekly.
Chipotle’s astounding $1.4 million fine may serve as a lesson for other employers to take seriously maximum hour requirements for minors. Additionally, to the extent that employers were desperate to employ workers despite age or hour restrictions amid low unemployment, COVID-19 has substantially increased unemployment rates. Although obstacles stand in the way of enforcing child labor protections, increased enforcement like that of Chipotle is a step in the right direction.
Explanations for Child Labor
The Supply of Child Labor
Given the role of child labor in the British Industrial Revolution, many economic historians have tried to explain why child labor became so prevalent. A competitive model of the labor market for children has been used to examine the factors that influenced the demand for children by employers and the supply of children from families. The majority of scholars argue that it was the plentiful supply of children that increased employment in industrial work places turning child labor into a social problem. The most common explanation for the increase in supply is poverty – the family sent their children to work because they desperately needed the income. Another common explanation is that work was a traditional and customary component of ordinary people’s lives. Parents had worked when they were young and required their children to do the same. The prevailing view of childhood for the working-class was that children were considered “little adults” and were expected to contribute to the family’s income or enterprise. Other less commonly argued sources of an increase in the supply of child labor were that parents either sent their children to work because they were greedy and wanted more income to spend on themselves or that children wanted out of the house because their parents were emotionally and physically abusive. Whatever the reason for the increase in supply, scholars agree that since mandatory schooling laws were not passed until 1876, even well-intentioned parents had few alternatives.
The Demand for Child Labor
Other compelling explanations argue that it was demand, not supply, that increased the use of child labor during the Industrial Revolution. One explanation came from the industrialists and factory owners – children were a cheap source of labor that allowed them to stay competitive. Managers and overseers saw other advantages to hiring children and pointed out that children were ideal factory workers because they were obedient, submissive, likely to respond to punishment and unlikely to form unions. In addition, since the machines had reduced many procedures to simple one-step tasks, unskilled workers could replace skilled workers. Finally, a few scholars argue that the nimble fingers, small stature and suppleness of children were especially suited to the new machinery and work situations. They argue children had a comparative advantage with the machines that were small and built low to the ground as well as in the narrow underground tunnels of coal and metal mines. The Industrial Revolution, in this case, increased the demand for child labor by creating work situations where they could be very productive.
Influence of Child Labor Laws
Whether it was an increase in demand or an increase in supply, the argument that child labor laws were not considered much of a deterrent to employers or families is fairly convincing. Since fines were not large and enforcement was not strict, the implicit tax placed on the employer or family was quite low in comparison to the wages or profits the children generated [Nardinelli (1980)]. On the other hand, some scholars believe that the laws reduced the number of younger children working and reduced labor hours in general [Chapman (1904) and Plener (1873)].
Despite the laws there were still many children and youth employed in textiles and mining by mid-century. Booth calculated there were still 58,900 boys and 82,600 girls under 15 employed in textiles and dyeing in 1881. In mining the number did not show a steady decline during this period, but by 1881 there were 30,400 boys under 15 still employed and 500 girls under 15. See below.
Table 1: Child Employment, 1851-1881
|Industry & Age Cohort||1851||1861||1871||1881|
Males under 15
|Females under 15||1,400||500||900||500|
|Females over 15||5,400||4,900||5,300||5,700|
|Total under 15 as |
% of work force
|Textiles and Dyeing |
Males under 15
|Females under 15||147,700||115,700||119,800||82,600|
|Females over 15||780,900||739,300||729,700||699,900|
|Total under 15 as |
% of work force
Explanations for the Decline in Child Labor
There are many opinions regarding the reason(s) for the diminished role of child labor in these industries. Social historians believe it was the rise of the domestic ideology of the father as breadwinner and the mother as housewife, that was imbedded in the upper and middle classes and spread to the working-class. Economic historians argue it was the rise in the standard of living that accompanied the Industrial Revolution that allowed parents to keep their children home. Although mandatory schooling laws did not play a role because they were so late, other scholars argue that families started showing an interest in education and began sending their children to school voluntarily. Finally, others claim that it was the advances in technology and the new heavier and more complicated machinery, which required the strength of skilled adult males, that lead to the decline in child labor in Great Britain. Although child labor has become a fading memory for Britons, it still remains a social problem and political issue for developing countries today.
Mines and Collieries Act 1842
Mines and Collieries Act 1842 (c. 99), commonly known as the Mines Act 1842, was an act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. The Act forbade women and girls of any age to work underground and introduced a minimum age of ten for boys employed in underground work. It was a response to the working conditions of children revealed in the Children's Employment Commission (Mines) 1842 report. The Commission was headed by Anthony Ashley-Cooper, Member of Parliament, who was styled Baron Ashley at the time, a courtesy title, and would succeed his father as the 7th Earl of Shaftesbury in 1852. 
At the beginning of the 19th century methods of coal extraction were primitive and the workforce, men, women and children, laboured in dangerous conditions. In 1841 about 216,000 people were employed in the mines. Women and children worked underground for 11 or 12 hours a day for smaller wages than men.  The public became aware of conditions in the country's collieries in 1838 after an accident at Huskar Colliery in Silkstone, near Barnsley. A stream overflowed into the ventilation drift after violent thunderstorms causing the death of 26 children 11 girls aged from 8 to 16 and 15 boys between 9 and 12 years of age.  The disaster came to the attention of Queen Victoria who ordered an inquiry. 
In 1840 Lord Ashley headed the royal commission of inquiry, which investigated the conditions of workers (especially children) in the coal mines. Commissioners visited collieries and mining communities gathering information sometimes against the mine owners' wishes. The report, illustrated by engraved illustrations and the personal accounts of mineworkers was published in May 1842. Victorian society was shocked to discover that children as young as five or six worked as trappers, opening and shutting ventilation doors down the mine, before becoming hurriers, pushing and pulling coal tubs and corfs.  Lord Ashley deliberately appealed to Victorian prudery, focussing on girls and women wearing trousers and working bare-breasted in the presence of boys and men, which "made girls unsuitable for marriage and unfit to be mothers". Such an affront to Victorian morality ensured the bill was passed. 
Lord Londonderry, a coal-mine owner, opposed the Bill in the House of Lords and pushed through amendments that watered it down. The bill passed the House of Lords at its third reading on 1 August 1842. 
Child Labour in the Collieries (Commentary) - History
Child Labour- Prohibition and Regulation Act, 1986
- 3. Prohibition of employment of children in certain occupations and processes
- 4. Power to amend the Schedule
- 5. Child Labour Technical Advisory Committee
- 6. Application of Part
- 7. Hours and period of work
- 8. Weekly holidays
- 9. Notice to Inspector
- 10. Disputes as to age
- 11. Maintenance of register
- 12. Display of notice containing abstract of Sections 3 and 14
- 13. Health and safety
- 14. Penalties
- 15. Modified application of certain laws in relation to penalties
- 16. Procedure relating to offences
- 17. Appointment of inspectors
- 18. Power to make rules
- 19. Rules and notifications to be laid before Parliament or State legislature
- 20. Certain other provisions of law not barred
- 21. Power to remove difficulties
- 22. Repeal and savings
- 23. Amendment of Act 11 of 1948
- 24. Amendment of Act 69 of 1951
- 25. Amendment of Act 44 of 1958
- 26. Amendment of Act 27 of 1961
An Act to prohibit the engagement of children in certain employments and to regulate the conditions of work of children in certain other employments.
Be it enacted by Parliament in the Thirty-seventh Year of the Republic of India as follows :
PART I- PRELIMINARY
1. Short title, extent and commencement.
(1) This Act may be called the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986.
(2) It extends to the whole of India.
(3) The provisions of this Act, other than Part III, shall come into force at once, and Part III shall come into force on such date as the Central Government may, by notification in the Official Gazette, appoint, and different dates may be appointed for different States and for different classes of establishments.
In this Act, unless the context otherwise requires,
- (i) "appropriate Government" means, in relation to an establishment under the control of the Central Government or a railway administration or a major port or a mine or oilfield, the Central Government, and in all other cases, the State Government
- (ii) "child" means a person who has not completed his fourteenth year of age
- (iii) "day" means a period of twenty-four hours beginning at midnight
- (iv) "establishment" includes a shop, commercial establishment, workshop, farm, residential hotel, restaurant, eating house, theatre or other place of public amusement or entertainment
- (v) "family", in relation to an occupier, means the individual, the wife or husband, as the case may be, of such individual, and their children, brother or sister of such individual
- (vi) "occupier", in relation to an establishment or a workshop, means the person who has the ultimate control over the affairs of the establishment or workshop
- (vii) "port authority" means any authority administering a port
- (viii) "prescribed" means prescribed by rules made under Section 18
- (ix) "week" means a period of seven days beginning at midnight on Saturday night or such other night as may be approved in writing for a particular area by the Inspector
- (x) "workshop" means any premises (including the precincts thereof) wherein any industrial process is carried on, but does not include any premises to which the provisions of Section 67 of the Factories Act, 1948 (63 of 1948), for the time being, apply.
PART II- PROHIBITION OF EMPLOYMENT OF CHILDREN IN CERTAINOCCUPATIONS AND PROCESSES
3. Prohibition of employment of children in certain occupations and processes.
No child shall be employed or permitted to work in any of the occupations set forth in Part A of the Schedule or in any workshop wherein any of the processes set forth in Part B of the Schedule is carried on :
Provided that nothing in this section shall apply to any workshop wherein any process is carried on by the occupier with the aid of his family or to any school established by, or receiving assistance or recognition from, Government.
4. Power to amend the Schedule.
The Central Government, after giving by notification in the Official Gazette, not less than three months' notice of its intention so to do, may, by like notification, add any occupation or process to the Schedule and thereupon the Schedule shall be deemed to have been amended accordingly.
5. Child Labour Technical Advisory Committee.
(1) The Central Government may, by notification in the Official Gazette, constitute an advisory committee to be called the Child Labour Technical Advisory Committee (hereafter in this section referred to as the Committee) to advise the Central Government for the purpose of addition of occupations and processes to the Schedule.
(2) The Committee shall consist of a Chairman and such other members not exceeding ten, as may be appointed by the Central Government.
(3) The Committee shall meet as often as it may consider necessary and shall have power to regulate its own procedure.
(4) The Committee may, if it deems it necessary so to do, constitute one or more sub-committees and may appoint to any such sub-committee, whether generally or for the consideration of any particular matter, any person who is not a member of the Committee.
(5) The term of office of, the manner of filling casual vacancies in the office of, and the allowances, if any, payable to, the Chairman and other members of the Committee, and the conditions and restrictions subject to which the Committee may appoint any person who is not a member of the Committee as a member of any of its sub-committees shall be such as may be prescribed.
PART III- REGULATION OF CONDITIONS OF WORK OF CHILDREN
6. Application of Part.
The provisions of this Part shall apply to an establishment or a class of establishments in which none of the occupations or processes referred to in Section 3 is carried on.
7. Hours and period of work.
(1) No child shall be required or permitted to work in any establishment in excess of such number of hours as may be prescribed for such establishment or class of establishments.
(2) The period of work on each day shall be so fixed that no period shall exceed three hours and that no child shall work for more than three hours before he has had an interval for rest for at least one hour.
(3) The period of work of a child shall be so arranged that inclusive of his interval for rest, under sub-section (2), it shall not be spread over more than six hours, including the time spent in waiting for work on any day.
(4) No child shall be permitted or required to work between 7 p.m. and 8 a.m.
(5) No child shall be required or permitted to work overtime.
(6) No child shall be required or permitted to work in any establishment on any day on which he has already been working in another establishment.
8. Weekly holidays.
Every child employed in an establishment shall be allowed in each week, a holiday of one whole day, which day shall be specified by the occupier in a notice permanently exhibited in a conspicuous place in the establishment and the day so specified shall not be altered by the occupier more than once in three months.
9. Notice to Inspector.
(1) Every occupier in relation to an establishment in which a child was employed or permitted to work immediately before the date of commencement of this Act in relation to such establishment shall, within a period of thirty days from such commencement, send to the Inspector within whose local limits the establishment is situated, a written notice containing the following particulars, namely :
- (a) the name and situation of the establishment
- (b) the name of the person in actual management of the establishment
- (c) the address to which communications relating to the establishment should be sent and
- (d) the nature of the occupation or process carried on in the establishment.
(2) Every occupier, in relation to an establishment, who employs, or permits to work, any child after the date of commencement of this Act in relation to such establishment, shall, within a period of thirty days from the date of such employment, send to the Inspector within whose local limits the establishment is situated, a written notice containing the particulars as are mentioned in sub-section (1).
Explanation: For the purposes of sub-sections (1) and (2), "date of commencement of this Act, in relation to an establishment" means the date of bringing into force of this Act in relation to such establishment.
(3) Nothing in Sections 7, 8 and 9 shall apply to any establishment wherein any process is carried on by the occupier with the aid of his family or to any school established by, or receiving assistance or recognition from. Government.
10. Disputes as to age.
If any question arises between an Inspector and an occupier as to the age of any child who is employed or is permitted to work by him in an establishment, the question shall, in the absence of a certificate as to the age of such child granted by the prescribed medical authority, be referred by the Inspector for decision to the prescribed medical authority.
11. Maintenance of register.
There shall be maintained by every occupier in respect of children employed or permitted to work in any establishment, a register to be available for inspection by an Inspector at all times during working hours or when work is being carried on in any such establishment, showing:
- (a) the name and date of birth of every child so employed or permitted to work
- (b) hours and periods of work of any such child and the intervals of rest to which he is entitled
- (c) the nature of work of any such child and
- (d) such other particulars as may be prescribed.
12. Display of notice containing abstract of Sections 3 and 14.
Every railway administration, every port authority and every occupier shall cause to bedisplayed in a conspicuous and accessible place at every station on its railway or within the limits of a port or at the place of work, as the case may be, a notice in the local language and in the English language containing an abstract of Sections 3 and 14.
13. Health and safety.
(1) The appropriate Government may, by notification in the Official Gazette, make rules for the health and safety of the children employed or permitted to work in any establishment or class of establishments.
(2) Without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing provisions, the said rules may provide for all or any of the following matters, namely :
- (a) cleanliness in the place of work and its freedom from nuisance
- (b) disposal of wastes and effluents
- (c) ventilation and temperature
- (d) dust and fume
- (e) artificial humidification
- (f) lighting
- (g) drinking water
- (h) latrine and urinals
- (i) spittoons
- (j) fencing of machinery
- (k) work at or near machinery in motion
- (l) employment of children on dangerous machines
- (m) instructions, training and supervision in relation to employment of children on dangerous machines
- (n) device for cutting off power
- (o) self-acting machines
- (p) easing of new machinery
- (q) floor, stairs and means of access
- (r) pits, sumps, openings in floors, etc.
- (s) excessive weights
- (t) protection of eyes
- (u) explosive or inflammable dust, gas, etc.
- (v) precautions in case of fire
- (w) maintenance of buildings and
- (x) safety of buildings and machinery.
PART IV- MISCELLANEOUS
(1) Whoever employs any child or permits any child to work in contravention of the provisions of Section 3 shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than three months but which may extend to one year or with fine which shall not be less than ten thousand rupees but which may extend to twenty thousand rupees or with both.
(2) Whoever, having been convicted of an offence under Section 3, commits a like offence afterwards, he shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than six months but which may extend to two years.
- (a) fails to give notice as required by Section 9, or
- (b) fails to maintain a register as required by Section 11 or makes any false entry in any such register or
- (c) fails to display a notice containing an abstract of Section 3 and this section as required by Section 12 or
- (d) fails to comply with or contravenes any other provisions of this Act or the rules made thereunder,
shall be punishable with simple imprisonment which may extend to one month or with fine which may extend to ten thousand rupees or with both.
15. Modified application of certain laws in relation to penalties.
(1)Where any person is found guilty and convicted of contravention of any of the provisions mentioned in sub-section (2), he shall be liable to penalties as provided in sub-sections (1) and (2) of Section 14 of this Act and not under the Acts in which those provisions are contained.
(2) The provisions referred to in sub-section (1) are the provisions mentioned below :
- (a) Section 67 of the Factories Act, 1948 (63 of 1948)
- (b) Section 40 of the Mines Act, 1952 (35 of 1952)
- (c) Section 109 of the Merchant Shipping Act, 1958 (44 of 1958) and
- (d) Section 21 of the Motor Transport Workers Act, 1961 (27 of 1961).
16. Procedure relating to offences.
(1) Any person, police officer or Inspector may file a complaint of the commission of an offence under this Act in any court of competent jurisdiction.
(2) Every certificate as to the age of a child which has been granted by a prescribed medical authority shall, for the purposes of this Act, be conclusive evidence as to the age of the child to whom it relates.
(3) No court inferior to that of a Metropolitan Magistrate or a Magistrate of the first class shall try any offence under this Act.
17. Appointment of inspectors. The appropriate Government may appoint Inspectors for the purposes of securing compliance with the provisions of this Act and any Inspector so appointed shall be deemed to be a public servant within the meaning of the Indian Penal Code (45 of 1860).
18. Power to make rules.
(1) The appropriate Government may, by notification in the Official Gazette and subject to the condition of previous publication, make rules for carrying into effect the provisions of this Act.
(2) In particular and without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing power, such rules may provide for all or any of the following matters, namely :
- (a) the term of office of, the manner of filling casual vacancies of, and the allowances payable to the Chairman and members of the Child Labour Technical Advisory Committee and the conditions and restrictions subject to which a non-member may be appointed to a sub-committee under sub-section (5) of Section 5
- (b) number of hours for which a child may be required or permitted to work under sub-section (1) of Section 7
- (c) grant of certificates of age in respect of young persons in employment or seeking employment, the medical authorities which may issue such certificate, the form of such certificate, the charges which may be made thereunder and the manner in which such certificate may be issued :
Provided that no charge shall be made for the issue of any such certificate if the application is accompanied by evidence of age deemed satisfactory by the authority concerned
- (d) the other particulars which a register maintained under Section 11 should contain.
19. Rules and notifications to be laid before Parliament or State legislature.
(1) Every rule made under this Act by the Central Government and every notification issued under Section 4, shall be laid, as soon as may be after it is made or issued, before each House of Parliament, while it is in session for a total period of thirty days which may be comprised in one session or in two or more successive sessions, and if, before the expiry of the session immediately following the session or the successive sessions aforesaid, both Houses agree in making any modification in the rule or notification or both Houses agree that the rule or notification should not be made or issued, the rule or notification shall thereafter have effect only in such modified form or be of no effect, as the case may be so, however, that any such modification or annulment shall be without prejudice to the validity of anything previously done under that rule or notification.
(2) Every rule made by a State Government under this Act shall be laid as soon as may be after it is made, before the legislature of that State.
20. Certain other provisions of law not barred. Subject to the provisions contained in Section 15, the provisions of this Act and the rules made thereunder shall be in addition to, and not in derogation of, the provisions of the Factories Act, 1948 (63 of 1948), the Plantations Labour Act, 1951 (69 of 1951) and the Mines Act, 1952 (35 of 1952).
21. Power to remove difficulties.
(1) If any difficulty arises in giving effect to the provisions of this Act, the Central Government may, by order published in the Official Gazette, make such provisions not inconsistent with the provisions of this Act as appear to it to be necessary or expedient for removal of the difficulty :
Provided that no such order shall be made after the expiry of a period of three years from the date on which this Act receives the assent of the President.
(2) Every order made under this section shall, as soon as may be after it is made, be laid before the Houses of Parliament.
22. Repeal and savings.
(1) The Employment of Children Act, 1938 (26 of 1938), is hereby repealed.
(2) Notwithstanding such repeal, anything done or any action taken or purported to have been done or taken under the Act so repealed shall, in so far as it is not inconsistent with the provisions of this Act, be deemed to have been done or taken under the corresponding provisions of this Act.
23. Amendment of Act 11 of 1948.
In Section 2 of the Minimum Wages Act, 1948:
- (i) for clause (a), the following clauses shall be substituted, namely :
- (a) 'adolescent' means a person who has completed his fourteenth year of age but has not completed his eighteenth year
- (aa) 'adult' means a person who has completed his eighteenth year of age
24. Amendment of Act 69 of 1951.
In the Plantations Labour Act, 1951,
- (a) in Section 2, in clauses (a) and (c), for the word "fifteenth", the word "fourteenth" shall be substituted
- (b) Section 24 shall be omitted
- (c) in Section 26, in the opening portion, the words "who has completed his twelfth year" shall be omitted.
25. Amendment of Act 44 of 1958. In the Merchant Shipping Act, 1958, in Section 109, for the word "fifteen", the word "fourteen" shall be substituted.
26. Amendment of Act 27 of 1961. In the Motor Transport Workers Act, 1961, in Section 2, in clauses (a) and (c), for the word "fifteenth", the word "fourteenth" shall be substituted.
PART A- Occupations
Any occupation connected with:
(1) Transport of passengers, goods or mails by railway
(2) Cinder picking, clearing of an ash pit or building operation in the railway premises
(3) Work in a catering establishment at a railway station, involving the movement of a vendoror any other employee of the establishment from one platform to another or into or out of a moving train
(4) Work relating to the construction of a railway station or with any other work where suchwork is done in close proximity to or between the railway lines
(5) A port authority within the limits of any port
(6) Work relating to selling of crackers and fireworks in shops with temporary licences
(7) Abattoirs/Slaughter Houses.
PART B- Processes
(3) Cement manufacture, including bagging of cement.
(4) Cloth printing, dyeing and weaving.
(5) Manufacture of matches, explosives and fireworks.
(6) Mica-cutting and splitting.
(11) Building and construction industry.
(l2) Manufacture of slate pencils (including packing).
(13) Manufacture of products from agate.
(14) Manufacturing processes using toxic metals and substances such as lead, mercury,manganese, chromium, cadmium, benzene, pesticides and asbestos.
(15) "Hazardous processes" as defined in Section 2(cb) and 'dangerous operations' as notifiedin rules made under Section 87 of the Factories Act, 1948 (63 of 1948).
(16) Priming as defined in Section 2(k)(iv) of the Factories Act, 1948 (63 of 1948).
Child labour is exploitation – but the household work I did as a child gave me life skills
Aged eight, Tayambile would walk with her mother every day to fetch water. On her 2km return journey in 30C heat, she would carry 20 litres in an aluminium bucket on her head.
She would then help to pound maize in a mortar and prepare food for the family – typically fresh fish caught by her father on the lake.
After the main and only meal of the day, “Tayamba” – meaning “we have started” in Chichewa, the national language of Malawi in south-eastern Africa – would take care of her baby sister.
That young girl was me. Through a western lens, some might view my experience as child labour. To me, I was learning life skills.
Six decades later, most people from this land-locked country still live in rural areas. Many are involved in agriculture for their livelihoods, including tobacco farming – so-called “green gold” for one of the world’s poorest nations.
Multinational companies make billions of dollars a year, selling cigarettes in the US, Europe and elsewhere. The tobacco is produced in tough conditions, much of it by children aged under 14, as revealed in a Guardian investigation just two years ago. These practices are rightly considered exploitative, can be physically and mentally harmful, and detrimental to children’s futures by keeping them out of school.
However, where do you draw the line between what is internationally deemed a crime and a natural process of transferring skills? Is international concern on child rights relevant to Africa?
Some argue that child labour perpetuates poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, population growth and other social problems. With the exception of large organisations putting children to work, local context is everything.
Mahatma Gandhi forged the way for Indian independence. The father of his nation knew a thing or two about self-reliance.
“Our children should not be so taught as to despise labour,” he wrote in a weekly journal in 1921. “There is no reason why a peasant’s son after having gone to school should become useless, as he does become, as an agricultural labourer.”
Yes, a different era and a different continent. But after almost 100 years, Africa’s single most important economic activity is still agriculture. Two-thirds of its working population is employed in food and cash-crop production in Malawi, it is 80% according to the World Bank.
Children, the farmers of tomorrow, play a crucial role in the rural economy. They learn skills by observation and participating in activities such as building houses, fishing, preparing food – all essential for survival. These skills are transferred from elder family members to children, from mother to daughter, father to son. But from an outsider’s perspective these “at-home chores” can be viewed negatively.
The International Labour Organization defines child labour as “work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential, and their dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development”. At the most extreme, it involves child slavery, separation from families or exposure to life-threatening hazards. Other examples may involve children being kept home from school in order to help the household.
Child labour is not new. To varying extents, it has existed throughout history. In 19th-century Britain, Victorian factories and mines exploited children on a massive scale. Indeed, it was a worldwide problem not just during industrialisation but throughout the last century. Today, contrary to popular belief, most child labourers are employed by their parents rather than in manufacturing or the formal economy.
In Africa, where many areas have no social security or social services to support the vulnerable, families are responsible for educating and training the next generation to become capable adults.
Those with good life skills become self-reliant and resilient because they can support themselves against all odds. There is an African proverb: by crawling, a child learns to stand. Without these life skills, the young adult is the laughing stock of the community, dependent on others for food, clothing and even shelter.
I have been involved in development in sub-Saharan Africa for most of my working life. Local context is the hallmark of effective development work. What works in one community may have no place in another, and an appreciation of diversity and cultural norms is key to success.
Over the past decade, there has been a significant shift towards “localisation” – local experts and communities receiving aid have become much more involved in development rather than having values imposed from the west. Programmes are now run by talented and empowered national staff. The beneficiaries are no longer passive recipients of grant funds but are part of the solution, defining the challenge and how best to tackle it.
Involving parents enables them to make the right decisions. My advice has always been that children should have the chance to go to school, as I did 60 years ago, to play and to act their age. However, we cannot tell mothers and fathers how to parent or what to do in their own homes.
Understanding the distinction between exploitation and transfer of life skills is critical for development workers stepping into any community. We need to embrace the blurred lines and complexities of cultural norms. The world should not be painted with one brush.
Dr Elizabeth Sibale is deputy chief of party at global impact firm Palladium
Child exploitation refers to the use of children for someone else’s advantage, gratification or profit often resulting in unjust, cruel and harmful treatment of the child. These activities are to the detriment of the child’s physical or mental health, education, moral or social-emotional development. It covers situations of manipulation, misuse, abuse, victimization, oppression or ill-treatment.
There are two main forms of child exploitation that are recognised:
Sexual exploitation: the abuse of a position of vulnerability, differential power, or trust for sexual purposes this includes profiting monetarily, socially or politically from the exploitation of another as well as personal sexual gratification.
Examples: Child prostitution, trafficking of children for sexual abuse and exploitation, child pornography, sexual slavery.
Economic exploitation of a child: the use of the child in work or other activities for the benefit of others. This includes, but is not limited to, child labour. Economic exploitation implies the idea of a certain gain or profit through the production, distribution and consumption of goods and services. This material interest has an impact on the economy of a certain unit, be it the State, the community or the family.
Examples: Child domestic work, child soldiers and the recruitment and involvement of children in armed conflict, child bondage, the use of children from criminal activities including the sale and distribution of narcotics, the involvement of children in any harmful or hazardous work.
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Just over a decade ago, child labour was a “widespread, systematic and increasingly serious problem in China.” Teenagers from poor rural families regularly dropped out of school to work in nearby factories, restaurants etc. and the abduction of children into forced labour in Shanxi and Henan became a national scandal.
Today, the forces creating both the supply of and demand for child labour have diminished considerably, and although there are still occasional reports of child labour in the Chinese media, the situation has improved.
Economic development and restructuring, particularly the move away from low-cost, labour intensive manufacturing, has significantly reduced the market for cheap child labour. That said, student interns above the legal working age of 16-years-old are still frequently used by factories as a source of flexible labour during periods of high demand.
The Chinese government’s nationwide poverty alleviation campaign, which aims to eliminate absolute poverty in China by the end of next year, has played an important role in improving the lives of people in poor rural communities that were the primary source of child labour.
The average annual per capita income for rural residents in Shunping county in Hebei was just 2,334 yuan when CLB investigated child labour in the area in 2004. Thirteen years later, in 2017, that figure had tripled to 6,867 yuan a year. There was an even more dramatic improvement in another CLB survey site, Hepu county in Guangxi, where there the average annual income of 2,763 yuan in 2004 increased by five times in 14 years to reach 13,713 yuan last year.
CLBs’ research report on child labour singled out the failings of the rural school system as being the primary cause of the high dropout rates which in turn created a regular supply of underage workers. The poverty alleviation campaign has also increased investment in rural education and most rural parents no longer have to pay fees to send their children to school.
However, the quality of education in many rural schools is generally very low and teachers are underpaid and under-valued. Protests by rural school teachers over low pay and benefits, as well as wage arrears, are commonplace with many disputes over employment status and decent pensions dragging on for years on end, even decades.
Rapid urbanization has been another major factor in reducing the supply of child labour in China. About 60 percent of China’s population now live in cities. Children from former rural areas who are resettled in cities clearly no longer have to work in the fields - the focus of this year’s World Day Against Child Labour. Moreover, schools in newly created or expanded cities tend to be better funded and better regulated than poor rural schools and as such they have a much better chance of ensuring that all students complete nine years of compulsory education as prescribed by law.
The Ministry of Education claims there were 145 million students in primary and middle school in 2017, comprising 93.8 percent of the compulsory school age populations. This means that there were still around nine million school-age children who did not complete middle school.
It is very difficult to gauge what proportion of these drop outs actually became underage workers but, as recently as 2016, there were still reports of children working more than ten hours a day in small manufacturing workshops in the Yangtse Delta town of Changshu. Rural children abandoned by their parents can also end up living in traditional acrobat schools, which now make additional money by live-streaming their performances. The owners of these schools claim they are providing a public service but they all too often leave children with chronic injuries and little career path beyond acrobatics.
The popularity of live-streaming and other social media platforms in China has also led to the growing exploitation of child performers and models by their fame seeking parents. Following a widely publicised video of a mother kicking a three-year-old child model, the city of Hangzhou introduced new regulations stipulating that children under ten cannot be used as advertising spokespersons and cannot work more than four hours a day. This is believed to be the first attempt by local governments to regulate the working conditions of child performers in China.
Although the conditions that created child labour a decade or so ago are no longer so onerous, new problems are emerging and the government, civil society organizations and education professionals need to remain vigilant.
The International Labour Organization (ILO) launched the World Day Against Child Labour in 2002 to focus attention on the global extent of child labour and the action and efforts needed to eliminate it. Each year on 12 June, the World Day brings together governments, employers and workers organizations, civil society, as well as millions of people from around the world to highlight the plight of child labourers and what can be done to help them.
Please see CLB’s report Small Hands: A survey report on child labour and the failings of the rural school system in China for a detailed insight into the problems of child labour in the mid-2000s.
Watch the video: The Children Working On Indian Coal Mines