Child labor
0 comment Thursday, August 21, 2014 |
Here's a question that occurred to me, after I recently read this Daily Mail article about child labor:
Why did it take so long to pass laws limiting child labor, and actually forbidding children under a certain age to work at all?
For instance this article lists the Massachusetts law of 1842, limiting the number of hours of work for children to 10 hours a day. In those days, I believe in most places, the standard work week was a six-day one, with only Sundays off. So the idea was that a 60 hour work week was permissible for children.
Compare and contrast the way people regarded slavery vs. the way they looked at child labor.
To be sure, up until my parents' generation, all children were expected to do household chores and to help with the child care of their younger siblings, unless they were very spoiled children from wealthy families. Many families in earlier times relied on their children to help earn money, and it may be that many of them resisted child labor laws because they could not survive without their children's earnings. Still, who believes that such destitute families could wield any real clout with their lawmakers? I suspect the employers were the main lobbying force which helped preserve child labor.
It was only in 1938 that Federal laws were enacted, limiting child labor.
Our society of today may have gone too far in the opposite direction. Most children of today seem not to have any household responsibilities, and maybe that, too, plays a part in the ''childhood obesity'' we are always being scolded about by our nanny-state government. Having sedentary children, who are not allowed to play outdoors in an unsafe environment, and kids who prefer TV or video games and internet to active play, is not a prescription for healthy development.
Though kids do need to learn responsibility and a work ethic, I think none of us would ever want child labor brought back; look at some of the photos of child laborers from the early 20th century. It was unquestionably a brutal practice, and many children suffered by it.
Yet it was allowed to exist for much longer than slavery.
It seems to me that the same activists who agitated, even in violent ways, for abolition should have taken a thought for the poor children who were working 60 and 70 hour work weeks, being stunted, injured, and sometimes even killed at grueling jobs.
Why was there not more effort to end it? Was it then, even as now, a question of race? Does the Other evoke more compassion from some of us than our own children do?

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