From European settlement in 1888, child convicts were occasionally sent to Australia where they were made to work. Child labour was not as excessive in Australia as in Britain. With a low population, agricultural productivity was higher and families did not face starvation as in established industrialised countries. Australia also did not have significant industry until the later part of the 20th century when child labour laws, and compulsory schooling had developed under the influence of Britain. From the 1870s Child labour was restricted by compulsorry schooling.
Many factors played a role in Britain’s long-term economic growth, such as the industrial revolution in the late 1700s and the prominent presence of child labour during the industrial age. Children who worked at an early age were often not forced; but did so because they needed to help their family survive financially. Due to poor employment opportunities for many parents, sending their children to work on farms and in factories was a way to help feed and support the family. Child Labour first started to occur in England when household businesses were turned into local labour markets that mass-produced the once homemade goods. Because children often helped produce the goods out of their homes, working in a factory to make those same goods was a simple change for many of these youths. Although there are many counts of children under the age of ten working for factories, the majority of children workers were between the ages of ten and fourteen.
This age range was an important time for many youths as they were first helping to provide for their families; while also transitioning to save for their own future families. Besides the obligation, many children had to help support their families financially; another factor that influenced child labour was the demographic changes that occurred in the eighteenth century. By the end of the eighteenth century, 20 percent of the population was made up of children between the ages of 5 and 14. Due to this substantial shift in available workers, and the development of the industrial revolution, children began to work earlier in life in companies outside of the home. Yet, even though there was an increase of child labour in factories such as cotton textiles, there consistently was large numbers of children working in the field of agriculture and domestic production.
With such a high percentage of children working, the rising of illiteracy, and the lack of a formal education became a widespread issue for many children who worked to provide for their families. Due to this problematic trend, many parents developed a change of opinion when deciding whether or not to send their children to work. Other factors that lead to the decline of child labour included financial changes in the economy, changes in the development of technology, raised wages, and continuous regulations on factory legislation. The first legal steps taken to end the occurrence of child labour was enacted more than fifty years ago. In 1966, the nation adopted the UN General Assembly of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. This act legally limited the minimum age for when children could start work at the age of 14. But 23 years later in 1989 the Convention on the Rights of Children was adopted and helped to reduce the exploitation of children and demanded safe working environments. They all worked towards the goal of ending the most problematic forms of child labour.
Child labour forms an intrinsic part of pre-industrial economies. In pre-industrial societies, there is rarely a concept of childhood in the modern sense. Children often begin to actively participate 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.
The Victorian era in particular became notorious for the conditions under which children were employed. Children as young as four were employed in production factories and mines working long hours in dangerous, often fatal, working conditions. In coal mines, children would crawl through tunnels too narrow and low for adults. Children also worked as errand boys, crossing sweepers, shoe blacks, or selling matches, flowers and other cheap goods. Some children undertook work as apprentices to respectable trades, such as building or as domestic servants (there were over 120,000 domestic servants in London in the mid-18th century). Working hours were long: builders worked 64 hours a week in summer and 52 in winter, while domestic servants worked 80-hour weeks.
A boy prepares biscuits at a small traditional factory in Afghanistan.
In 2015, the country of India is home to the largest number of children who are working illegally in various industrial industries. Agriculture in India is the largest sector where many children work at early ages to help support their family. Many of these children are forced to work at young ages due to many family factors such as unemployment, a large number of family members, poverty, and lack of parental education. This is often the major cause of the high rate of child labour in India.
A variety of Indian social scientists as well as the Non-Governmental Organization (NGOs) have done extensive research on the numeric figures of child labour found in India and determined that India contributes to one-third of Asia’s child labour and one-fourth of the world’s child labour. Due to a large number of children being illegally employed, the Indian government began to take extensive actions to reduce the number of children working, and to focus on the importance of facilitating the proper growth and development of children. International influences help to encourage legal actions to be taken in India, such as the Geneva Declaration of the Right of Children Act was passed in 1924. This act was followed by The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 to which incorporated the basic human rights and needs of children for proper progression and growth in their younger years. These international acts encouraged major changes to the workforce in India which occurred in 1986 when the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act was put into place. This act prohibited hiring children younger than the age of 14, and from working in hazardous conditions.
Children working at a young age has been a consistent theme throughout Africa. Many children began first working in the home to help their parents run the family farm. Children in Africa today are often forced into exploitative labour due to family debt and other financial factors, leading to ongoing poverty. Other types of domestic child labour include working in commercial plantations, begging, and other sales such as boot shining. In total, there is an estimated five million children who are currently working in the field of agriculture which steadily increases during the time of harvest. Along with 30 percent of children who are picking coffee, there are an estimated 25,000 school age children who work year round.
Other legal factors that have been implemented to end and reduce child labour includes the global response that came into force in 1979 by the declaration of the International Year of the Child. Along with the Human Rights Committee of the United Nations, these two declarations worked on many levels to eliminate child labour. Although many actions have been taken to end this epidemic, child labour in Africa is still an issue today due to the unclear definition of adolescence and how much time is needed for children to engage in activities that are crucial for their development. Another issue that often comes into play is the link between what constitutes as child labour within the household due to the cultural acceptance of children helping run the family business. In the end, there is a consistent challenge for the national government to strengthen its grip politically on child labour, and to increase education and awareness on the issue of children working below the legal age limit. With children playing an important role in the African economy, child labour still plays an important role for many in the 20th century.