Child Labor in U.S. History

How Children were Exploited in The United States in the Last Couple of Centuries

child laborThroughout history, children working in various manual labors were a common thing. It all started in the Industrial Revolution. Children used to work in huge factories (mainly in the textile industry) in terrible conditions. Moreover, it was common to use children in mines. Their small body allowed them to reach places underground where adults could not access.

In the United States in the 18th and 19th century children worked in farms to help their families or as hired labor force. As figures show, in the beginning of the 20th century, there were close to 2 million working children at ages 10 – 15 in the United States.

The change occurred during the first and second decade of the 20th century. Some laws were passed to limit the hiring of children in certain fields, especially those that involved strenuous physical effort.

During the Great Depression, further effort was made to lower the number of working children. Most noticeable was the Fair Labor Standards Act (1938) which put in force minimum wage, maximum working hours and clear limitation on hiring underage workers. In 1949, Congress broadened child labor laws by including other field in which children were not allowed to be employed, such as commerce and transportation.

Today, developed countries take very seriously the topic of child labor. Compulsory education law make sure kids remain at school where they belong. However, we cannot say the same about developing countries. In large parts of the world, children are still exploited as cheap labor force. We see children working under horrendous condition and with law pay in cocoa plantations in countries like Ghana, Dominican Republic, Peru, Mexico and Indonesia.

The UN is trying to fight this phenomenon without much success. In poor countries children are seen as a legitimate working force needed to support their families.

Further reading:

Child Labor in the Industrial Revolution

Child labor today – UNICEF

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