Child labour refers to the exploitation of children through any form of work that deprives children of their childhood, interferes with their ability to attend regular school, and is mentally, physically, socially or morally harmful. Child labour has existed to varying extents throughout history. During the 19th and early 20th centuries, many children aged 5—14 from poorer families worked in Western nations and their colonies alike.
These children mainly worked in agriculture, home-based assembly operations, factories, mining, and services such as news boys —some worked night shifts lasting 12 hours. With the rise of household income, availability of schools and passage of child labour laws, the incidence rates of child labour fell. In the world's poorest countries, around one in four children are engaged in child labour, the highest number of whom 29 percent live in sub-saharan Africa.
Child labour forms an intrinsic part of pre-industrial economies. Children often begin to actively participate in activities such as child rearing, hunting and farming as soon as they are competent.
In many societies, children as young as 13 are seen as adults and engage in the same activities as adults. The work of children was important in pre-industrial societies, as children needed to provide their labour for their survival and that of their group. Pre-industrial societies were characterised by low productivity and short life expectancy; preventing children from participating in productive work would be more harmful to their welfare and that of their group in the long run.
In pre-industrial societies, there was little need for children to attend school. This is especially the case in non-literate societies. Most pre-industrial skill and knowledge were amenable to being passed down through direct mentoring or apprenticing by competent adults. With the onset of the Industrial Revolution in Britain in the late 18th century, there was a rapid increase in the industrial exploitation of labour, including child labour.
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Industrial cities such as Birmingham, Manchester, and Liverpool rapidly grew from small villages into large cities and improving child mortality rates. These cities drew in the population that was rapidly growing due to increased agricultural output.
This process was replicated in other industrialising countries. The Victorian era in particular became notorious for the conditions under which children were employed.
Working hours were long: builders worked 64 hours a week in summer and 52 in winter, while domestic servants worked hour weeks.
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Child labour played an important role in the Industrial Revolution from its outset, often brought about by economic hardship. The children of the poor were expected to contribute to their family income.
Contract Law in Two Hours
In England and Scotland in , two-thirds of the workers in water-powered cotton mills were described as children. Throughout the second half of the 19th century, child labour began to decline in industrialised societies due to regulation and economic factors because of the Growth of trade unions.
The regulation of child labour began from the earliest days of the Industrial Revolution. The first act to regulate child labour in Britain was passed in As early as and Factory Acts were passed to regulate the working hours of workhouse children in factories and cotton mills to 12 hours per day. These acts were largely ineffective and after radical agitation, by for example the "Short Time Committees" in , a Royal Commission recommended in that children aged 11—18 should work a maximum of 12 hours per day, children aged 9—11 a maximum of eight hours, and children under the age of nine were no longer permitted to work.
This act however only applied to the textile industry, and further agitation led to another act in limiting both adults and children to hour working days.
Lord Shaftesbury was an outspoken advocate of regulating child labour. As technology improved and proliferated, there was a greater need for educated employees.
This saw an increase in schooling, with the eventual introduction of compulsory schooling. Improved technology and automation also made child labour redundant. In the early 20th century, thousands of boys were employed in glass making industries.
Glass making was a dangerous and tough job especially without the current technologies. When the boys are at work, they are exposed to this heat.
This could cause eye trouble, lung ailments, heat exhaustion, cuts, and burns. Since workers were paid by the piece, they had to work productively for hours without a break.
Many factory owners preferred boys under 16 years of age. An estimated 1.
In , over 2 million children in the same age group were employed in the United States. Hine took these photographs between and as the staff photographer for the National Child Labor Committee. Factories and mines were not the only places where child labour was prevalent in the early 20th century.
Home-based manufacturing across the United States and Europe employed children as well. Legislation that followed had the effect of moving work out of factories into urban homes. Families and women, in particular, preferred it because it allowed them to generate income while taking care of household duties. Home-based manufacturing operations were active year-round.
Families willingly deployed their children in these income generating home enterprises. Children aged 5—14 worked alongside the parents.
Home-based operations and child labour in Australia, Britain, Austria and other parts of the world was common. Rural areas similarly saw families deploying their children in agriculture. In , Frieda S. Miller — then Director of the United States Department of Labor — told the International Labour Organization that these home-based operations offered "low wages, long hours, child labour, unhealthy and insanitary working conditions".
Child labour is still common in many parts of the world. Estimates for child labour vary. It ranges between and million, if children aged 5—17 involved in any economic activity are counted.
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If light occasional work is excluded, ILO estimates there were million child labourers aged 5—14 worldwide in This is about 20 million less than ILO estimate for child labourers in Some 60 percent of the child labour was involved in agricultural activities such as farming, dairy, fisheries and forestry. Some children work as guides for tourists, sometimes combined with bringing in business for shops and restaurants.
Contrary to popular belief, most child labourers are employed by their parents rather than in manufacturing or formal economy.
Children who work for pay or in-kind compensation are usually found in rural settings as opposed to urban centres. Africa has the highest percentage of children aged 5—17 employed as child labour, and a total of over 65 million.
Asia, with its larger population, has the largest number of children employed as child labour at about million. Latin America and the Caribbean region have lower overall population density, but at 14 million child labourers has high incidence rates too. Accurate present day child labour information is difficult to obtain because of disagreements between data sources as to what constitutes child labour.
In some countries, government policy contributes to this difficulty.
Foreign policy of China
For example, the overall extent of child labour in China is unclear due to the government categorizing child labour data as "highly secret". In , the U. Department of Labor issued a List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor , where China was attributed 12 goods the majority of which were produced by both underage children and indentured labourers. The Maplecroft Child Labour Index survey  reports that 76 countries pose extreme child labour complicity risks for companies operating worldwide.
Of the major growth economies, Maplecroft ranked Philippines 25th riskiest, India 27th, China 36th, Vietnam 37th, Indonesia 46th, and Brazil 54th, all of them rated to involve extreme risks of child labour uncertainties, to corporations seeking to invest in developing world and import products from emerging markets. International Labour Organization ILO suggests poverty is the greatest single cause behind child labour.
Other scholars such as Harsch on African child labour, and Edmonds and Pavcnik on global child labour have reached the same conclusion. Lack of meaningful alternatives, such as affordable schools and quality education, according to ILO,  is another major factor driving children to harmful labour. Children work because they have nothing better to do.
Even when schools are sometimes available, they are too far away, difficult to reach, unaffordable or the quality of education is so poor that parents wonder if going to school is really worth it. In European history when child labour was common, as well as in contemporary child labour of modern world, certain cultural beliefs have rationalised child labour and thereby encouraged it.
Some view that work is good for the character-building and skill development of children.
China Employment Law: A Memo On The Practicalities
In many cultures, particular where the informal economy and small household businesses thrive, the cultural tradition is that children follow in their parents' footsteps; child labour then is a means to learn and practice that trade from a very early age.
Similarly, in many cultures the education of girls is less valued or girls are simply not expected to need formal schooling, and these girls pushed into child labour such as providing domestic services. Biggeri and Mehrotra have studied the macroeconomic factors that encourage child labour. They suggest  that child labour is a serious problem in all five, but it is not a new problem. Macroeconomic causes encouraged widespread child labour across the world, over most of human history.
They suggest that the causes for child labour include both the demand and the supply side. While poverty and unavailability of good schools explain the child labour supply side, they suggest that the growth of low-paying informal economy rather than higher paying formal economy is amongst the causes of the demand side. Other scholars too suggest that inflexible labour market, size of informal economy, inability of industries to scale up and lack of modern manufacturing technologies are major macroeconomic factors affecting demand and acceptability of child labour.
Systematic use of child labour was common place in the colonies of European powers between and In Africa, colonial administrators encouraged traditional kin-ordered modes of production, that is hiring a household for work not just the adults.
Millions of children worked in colonial agricultural plantations, mines and domestic service industries. A system of Pauper Apprenticeship came into practice in the 19th century where the colonial master neither needed the native parents' nor child's approval to assign a child to labour, away from parents, at a distant farm owned by a different colonial master.
Britain for example passed a law, the so-called Masters and Servants Act of , followed by Tax and Pass Law, to encourage child labour in colonies particularly in Africa.
These laws offered the native people the legal ownership to some of the native land in exchange for making labour of wife and children available to colonial government's needs such as in farms and as picannins. Beyond laws, new taxes were imposed on colonies. One of these taxes was the Head Tax in the British and French colonial empires. The tax was imposed on everyone older than 8 years, in some colonies. To pay these taxes and cover living expenses, children in colonial households had to work.
Proposals to regulate child labour began as early as Children working at a young age has been a consistent theme throughout Africa.