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History Of Child Labour Essay

2054 words - 8 pages

Child labour, which can be defined as any work done by a minor for monetary or other reward, declined markedly in Britain during the 19th and 20th centuries. The 1851 census recorded that more than a quarter of all children aged between ten and fourteen were employed in a variety of occupations (Block 2, p.89), but by 1973 full-time education was compulsory until the age of sixteen (Block 2, p.112), showing that the focus of children’s lives had shifted from work to school. Today, children below the age of fourteen rarely work outside of the home, and stringent regulations apply to any child employment in Britain (CAB). The causes of its decline remain unclear as many reason have been offered, but the influence and effectiveness of each is an area for debate. The numerous possible contributory factors will be discussed within the relevant historical context.Child labour was seen as a normal and expected aspect of the lives of, particularly, working-class or peasant children leading up to the 19th century. Before the dawn of the Industrial Revolution towards the end of the 18th century, most people lived in the country, where children would have worked in agriculture, animal husbandry, and domestic work. With the advent of industrialised manufacturing businesses, and the associated increased demand for coal mining, many people moved to the towns to find work. It was at this time that a change in the quality of child labour occurred, with many children, as young as five years old, being employed in factories, mills and mines. Hours were long, the conditions often unhealthy, and the work usually demanding and detrimental to the child’s development, both physical and moral (Block 2, p.86, extract from Leeds Intelligencer).Historians have drawn differing conclusions as to the forces behind child labour at the start of the 1800s. Some interpreted the results of the 1851 census as showing that the categories of child labour were still predominantly traditional, i.e. agricultural for boys and domestic for girls, and that industrial work constituted an insignificant portion of the total child work force. They believed that the perpetuation of child labour was parent-driven. However, the results of the census are open to to a high degree of inaccuracy and, therefore, there is a strong possibility that the figures do not show the true state of child labour at that time. Other historians have concentrated more on evidence of child labour within the area of industry, such as recorded statements of people involved in the manufacturing including factory owners and their foremen, and on statistics specific to the constitution of industrial work forces; for example, the fact that in 1835, 43% of British cotton industry workers were under eighteen (Block 2, p.90). Calls for reform in the legislation governing child labour began to be voiced by influential welfare reformers as a reaction to this movement towards what was seen as unsatisfactory and...

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