Sample Paper on The Impact of Child Labor during the Industrial Revolution

Child labor is a concept that has existed globally for a very long time. During the Pre-Industrial era, children were mainly involved in agricultural activities that formed the main source of livelihood for mankind then. Children tilled agricultural fields and tended for the farm and drought animals. They would also be outsourced to provide labor to farms that had a limited supply of labor at a fee. The advent of the Industrial Revolution revolutionized the aspect of child labor not only in Europe but also in America and other places where industrialization had spread. The Industrial Revolution was a period characterized by a massive change in the realms of agriculture, transportation, manufacturing, and mining as the operations of these sectors were mechanized. Industrialization was made possible by the numerous inventions, such as the invention of the steam engine by James Watt, which inundated the era. Mechanization of the manufacturing and production sectors, coupled with the severe economic constraints during the first Industrial Revolution, led to the factories employing the vulnerable people in society such as women and children who could offer cheap labor. During the First Industrial Revolution, children carried weight to aid their families in surviving the severe economic hardships of the era.

The political ideology that was ubiquitously used during the first Industrial Revolution era was classical liberalism. Classical liberalism advocates for civil liberties augmented by the rule of law and emphasizes total economic freedom.[1]  Laissez-faire capitalism, which limits the role of government in the control of the economy, is a fundamental tenet of political ideology of classical liberalism. Therefore, the economy is subjected to limited government regulations and policies. The political ideology of classical liberalism allowed the wealthy industry owners and industrialists during the first Industrial Revolution to act in any manner they deemed fit without fear of repercussions. The Industrial Revolution saw the ubiquitous hiring of children laborers. The children laborers were subjected to working in wanting labor conditions in factories and industries that had minimal safety practices.

The Industrial Revolution massively disrupted the labor sector and the lives of the working-class people in industrialized societies. The use of machines in the manufacturing and production sectors led to a massive reduction in the use of labor-intensive methods of manufacturing and production of goods.[2] The steam engine invented by James Watt and Mathew Bouton used cola to generate enough power to run entire factories. This invention made factory owners quickly realize that they did not need numerous laborers for the production of goods. Therefore, factory owners decided to shift their employees’ hiring strategies from male adults to women and children who were most vulnerable. The vulnerability of women and children made them susceptible to exploitation, such as low wages, which, in turn, increased the profits raked in by the factory owners.

Child labor became widespread in Europe and America as children accepted much lower wages compared to adults. During the Industrial Revolution, children were paid wages that ranged between 10-20 percent of that offered to adults.[3] Thus, hiring children was economical to the factory owners as they could cut on their production costs, and therefore, make more profits. Children were employed as “pauper apprentices” and “Scavengers” titles, which meant that they were to be offered little wages as they did not possess any proper skills.[4] Since young children were not burdened by numerous domestic chores, they could work for longer hours in the factories. Poor families would rely on the earnings of their children for survival in the harsh economic times and would encourage their children to offer labor in the factories.

Child labor became prevalent in the era of the first Industrial Revolution as children by nature are more obedient. The children laborers could put up with the grueling punishments and severely restricting terms of employment widely practiced by industries during the Industrial Revolution period. The first Industrial Revolution was marked by strict discipline, harsh punishment, poor and unhealthy working conditions, as well as inflexible work hours. Adult laborers, mostly men, were prone to agitating for better working conditions and were difficult to control. For example, in 1819, John Fairbrother, one of the child laborers during the first Industrial Revolution in Britain, narrated how he witnessed his master whipping children who had reported late for work with a horsewhip.[5] Moreover, children laborers were preferred to adults as the children could not organize into labor unions and groups to agitate for better working conditions.

Children came handy in operating the machines that powered the factories. Children, due to their diminutive size, could fit into tighter spaces within the factories compared to adult laborers. The textile mills of the late 18th century were prone to clogging and jamming. The small arms and hands of the children were ideal for unclogging the machines.[6] Children, therefore, became very important not only in the provision of labor but also in the maintenance of the machines that operated in the factories.

The use of child labor during the Industrial Revolution had many, mainly negative impacts. The use of child labor during the first Industrial Revolution exposed children to several health risks. The factories during the first Industrial Revolution era had few safeguards and rudimentary safety practices. Most of the machines used in the industries were unguarded and unfenced, posing serious health risk to the child workers. The spinning belts and shafts in textile mills were often left unexposed and resulted in numerous injuries and deaths of child laborers. In 1832 the British House of Commons in a report tackling the safety practices in British factories pointed out that numerous accidents were occurring in the industries as hazardous parts of industrial machinery were not fenced.[7] Moreover, the short stature of the child laborers required them to stand on top of the machines to operate them. This perspective exposed them to risks of being crushed by the machines. In most cases, their clothing could be clogged into the machine, pulling them into the workings of the machines resulting in violent deaths.

Since children possess small body parts, they were used to fit into tight spaces and charged with unclogging of defective machines. Numerous times, the machines would start operating while the children were still involved in the unclogging process. This would result in severe injuries to the hands and fingers of the children. Dr. Robert Blincoe, in his 1828 memoir, writes that he had to perform innumerable surgeries on child laborers whose hands and arm’s muscles and skins had been stripped to the bone having been caught in the factory machinery. The factories were also constructed in cramped and contained spaces without proper ventilation. The machines would, therefore, quickly increase the temperature of the factories at the detriment of the child laborers who cramped the factories.[8] In 1824, William Cobbett, a British parliamentarian and a serious advocate against child labor, termed the forceful locking of children in factories for more than twelve hours a day in factories averaging eighty degrees as slavery.

The use of child labor during the first Industrial Revolution also led to a massive reduction in literacy levels in Europe and America. Mostly, children were introduced into the factories as laborers at the age of four years. Therefore, they never got the opportunity to receive basic primary education. Most families depended on the wages earned by their children in the factories to survive the economic difficulties of the period, thus they forced the children to forgo education. 19th century educational reformers in the United States advocated for the compulsory primary education of all native-born children. They argues that education was essential as a means of personal fulfillment and for advancing the interests of the nation. The agitation by the education reformers saw many Native American kids attend schools. However, the same privilege was not extended to the children of immigrants who had inflexed the United States in the 18th century. Most immigrants continued forcing their children into the factories as laborers without providing them with basic education as they desperately needed the extra cash earned by their children to sustain a living in the harsh economic times of the industrial period.

Child labor, during the first Industrial Revolution, exposed the children to various forms of sexual exploitation, harassment, and discrimination. Sexual harassment of child laborers was rampant in the Industrial Revolution era as children were always left at the whims and mercies of their factory masters. The masters would always take advantage of the children’s inability to resist their sexual advances and would sexually harass and exploit the minors. The issue of sexual harassment and exploitation of children led to a public uproar in industrialized societies. In America, Francis Cabot Lowell, a rich industrialist, came up with a system to minimize issues of sexual harassment and discrimination in American factories. He developed the Lowell Factory system, which provided average educational and cultural opportunities to the children.[9] Besides, the system protected the young laborers from sexual harassment and exploitation.

The ubiquitous child labor practice during the Industrial Revolution era led to the creation of legislation and policies that outlawed child labor. Constant attacks and agitation against the practice of child labor by prominent leaders and scholars such as Karl Marx, Charles Dickson, and Robert Owen led to the creation of legislation that outlawed the practice. In Britain, a series of Factory Acts were enacted by the British Parliament in the 1800s. For example, the 1819 Factory Act limited workday for child laborers at twelve hours while the 1833 Factory Act made illegal the employment of children below the age of nine years. In America, legislation against child labor was highly opposed by the rich industrialists and their political allies, and therefore, took a long time for the practice of child labor to be outlawed in America. Child labor in America was only outlawed due to the biting effects of the Great Depression, which made all available jobs to be given to adults.

Overall, the first Industrial Revolution saw a widespread increase in child laborers as they offered cheap labor. Child labor, however, had more negative impacts and consequences than good.

 

 

Bibliography

Fliter, John A. “The Great Depression and the Renewed Fight over the Child Labor Amendment.” In Child Labor in America: The Epic Legal Struggle to Protect Children. University Press of Kansas, 2018.

Fliter, John A. Child Labor in America: The Epic Legal Struggle to Protect Children. University Press of Kansas, 2018.

Gardner, Phil, Clark Nardinelli, and Harry Hendrick. “Child Labor and the Industrial Revolution.” History of Education Quarterly 31, no. 4 (1991): 538. https://doi.org/10.2307/368179

Humphries, Jane. “Child Labor: Lessons from the Historical Experience of Todays Industrial Economies.” The World Bank Economic Review 17, no. 2 (January 2003): 175–96. https://doi.org/10.1093/wber/lhg016

 

[1] Humphries, Jane. “Child Labor: Lessons from the Historical Experience of Todays Industrial Economies.” The World Bank Economic Review 17, no. 2 (January 2003): 175–96.

[2] Humphries, Jane 178.

[3] Gardner, Phil, Clark Nardinelli, and Harry Hendrick. “Child Labor and the Industrial Revolution.” History of Education Quarterly 31, no. 4 (1991): 538.

[4] Gardner, Phil, Clark Nardinelli, and Harry Hendrick 538.

[5] Fliter, John A. Child Labor in America: The Epic Legal Struggle to Protect Children. University Press of Kansas, 2018.

[6] Fliter, John A 15.

[7] Gardner, Phil, Clark Nardinelli, and Harry Hendrick 540.

[8] Gardner, Phil, Clark Nardinelli, and Harry Hendrick 538.

[9] Fliter, John A. “The Great Depression and the Renewed Fight over the Child Labor Amendment.” In Child Labor in America: The Epic Legal Struggle to Protect Children. University Press of Kansas, 2018.