Thursday, 19 January 2012

USA History of Child Labor

Child labor is the act of employing children who are under aged, in order to make them work at lower pay. This practice is considered to be exploitative in many countries and international organizations. Earlier; child labor was not a big problem as children as young as 4-5years, would accompany their parents to aid in agriculture, coal mining, weaving, and other jobs. 

The industrial revolution brought up the dispute over child labor, as schooling became more important, and concepts of laborers and rights of children gained more prominence. The history of child labor skyrocketed with the industrial revolution, as it saw children working in factories, mines, and even having his own small business like selling food, flowers, becoming shoe blacks, matchbox makers, and laundry boys and girls. 

Child Labor in United States

Families in the USA, led lives which were dominated by their employers. Their company would pay them with overpriced goods of the company, and allocate them houses in the company owned villages. For these amenities, the entire family would work for more than 72 hours a week, with men for heavy, women and children for lighter works. The companies were manipulative as well. The laws of state became stringent and regulated work conditions, limited the child labor. But these laws were not applicable to immigrants and now the companies would exploit the people living in slums, make them work longer hours, for a small pay.


Many US states enforced laws to restrict the employment of young children in industries. But this had no effect on the rural communities as children were working in the farms, mills and factories.


The National Trades' Union Convention made the first ever proposal to the government, stating that a minimum age for work be established for children to work in factories and other jobs. In the same year, Massachusetts introduced the first ever State law, which required children below 15 years, who were working in factories, to undergo compulsory 3 months of schooling each year.


Massachusetts reduces the working hours for children to 10 hours a day. This law is emulated and passed by other states in Unites States.


The Working Men's Party (WMP) proposed that children below the age of 14 be disallowed and banned from working in factories.


Following on the same lines as the WMP, the American Federation of Labor passes a resolution, during its first national convention. This convention aimed at spreading the message to all states, that they too should enact laws that prohibit children under 14 years of age from working.


The NYU, New York Union, became fully involved in the prohibition of child labor and heavily sponsored enactments that would, prohibit children from working in cigar processing and manufacture. Mr. Samuel Gompers was the man responsible for this positive move, even though he himself was a cigar maker and leader of the union.


The Democrats join the bandwagon as well, demanding more protection or children below the age of 15.


The laws in America were always ignored, until 1904, when the National Child labor committee was formed by concerned people. This committee was chartered by Congress in 1907. When these people visited industries to inspect if they violated laws, young children were rushed out of their sight. Often the owners said that these children had come to the factory or mill for paying a visit to their mothers, or were helping their mothers. The committee, mobilized popular support by publicizing about the depraved conditions and hardship faced by children in chemical factories, mills and heavy machine industries. The concept of public schooling and compulsory education were intertwined with the banning of this loathsome practice. The objective was to initiate state level laws restricting and increasing the age bar, for children, so as to delay their inception into the paid labor market. The permissible limit during that time was 12, 14, or 16 years, varying from one state to the next.


A controversial federal law is passed, which prohibits the movement of goods, across state lines, if in case the manufacturers or sellers are actively hiring children to work for them.


The United States Congress passed a constitutional amendment, which gave authority to the federal government, so as to regulate child labor laws more effectively. However, this amendment was rejected and not ratified by many states and thus never passed into an act. This attempt failed the second time in 1937, and was left untouched.


The first ever boycott was initiated by Walsh Haley Act, as per which the United States government refused to purchase goods, which were manufactured through underage child labor. The act reduced the working hours for children above 14, to 8 hours daily, and 40 hours a week. Health and safety measures were reinforced.


After many attempts, many states passed stringent laws, and banned child labor. Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act, also known as Federal Wage and Hour Law. This became constitutional in 1941 after a declaration by the US Supreme Court. According to this act, no child would work more than 40 hours a week, the minimum wage would be 40 cents per hour. Minors below 16 are not to work in those industries which are classified to be hazardous. There were no age restrictions for children to work in non-hazardous environment. Children were to work only outside their school hours and during vacations, but only for limited hours. 

The more things change, the more they remain the same; in this case it stands true. Child labor is prevalent and ever increasing in these times of global economic meltdown, where kids are cheaper and easily tamed. Child labor is unfortunately still prevalent in Asia, Africa, Russia and the USA.

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