Imran, 11, left, and Nizam, 11, are photographed on World Day Against Child Labour

Imran, 11, left, and Nizam, 11, are photographed on World Day Against Child Labour, as they take a break from their work at a factory that makes metal utensils. The boys earn less than $5 per week. Click here to look at everyday items that may involve some of the world’s 168 million child workers in their production.

History 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 Industrial Revolution
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. 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 was process replicated in other industrialising counties.

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.

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. In 19th-century Great Britain, one-third of poor families were without a breadwinner, as a result of death or abandonment, obliging many children to work from a young age. In England and Scotland in 1788, two-thirds of the workers in 143 water-powered cotton mills were described as children. A high number of children also worked as prostitutes. The author Charles Dickens worked at the age of 12 in a blacking factory, with his family in debtor’s prison.
Karl Marx was an outspoken opponent of child labor, saying British industries, “could but live by sucking blood, and children’s blood too,” and that U.S. capital was financed by the “capitalized blood of children”. Two girls protesting child labour (by calling it child slavery) in the 1909 New York City Labor Day parade. Throughout the second half of the 19th century, child labour began to decline in industrialised societies due to regulation and economic factors. 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 1803. As early as 1802 and 1819 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 1831, a Royal Commission recommended in 1833 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 1847 limiting both adults and children to 10-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.
Early 20th century
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. The process of making glass includes intense heat to melt glass (3133 °F). When the boys are at work, they are exposed to this heat. This could cause eye trouble, lung ailments, heat exhaustion, cut, and burns. Since workers were paid by the piece, they had to work productively for hours without a break. Since furnaces had to be constantly burning, there were night shifts from 5:00 pm to 3:00 am. Many factory owners preferred boys under 16 years of age. 
An estimated 1.7 million children under the age of fifteen were employed in American industry by 1900. In 1910, over 2 million children in the same age group were employed in the United States. This included children who rolled cigarettes, engaged in factory work, worked as bobbin doffers in textile mills, worked in coal mines and were employed in canneries. Lewis Hine’s photographs of child labourers in the 1910s powerfully evoked the plight of working children in the American south. Hines took these photographs between 1908 and 1917 as the staff photographer for the National Child Labor Committee.
Household enterprises
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. Governments and reformers argued that labour in factories must be regulated and the state had an obligation to provide welfare for poor. 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. In many cases, men worked from home. In France, over 58 percent of garment workers operated out of their homes; in Germany, the number of full-time home operations nearly doubled between 1882 and 1907; and in the United States, millions of families operated out of home seven days a week, year round to produce garments, shoes, artificial flowers, feathers, match boxes, toys, umbrellas and other products. 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 1946, Frieda Miller – then Director of United States Department of Labour – told the International Labour Organisation that these home-based operations offered, “low wages, long hours, child labour, unhealthy and insanitary working conditions.” 
Incidence rates for child labour worldwide in 10-14 age group, in 2003, per World Bank data. The data is incomplete, as many countries do not collect or report child labour data (coloured gray). The colour code is as follows: yellow (<10% of children working), green (10–20%), orange (20–30%), red (30–40%) and black (>40%). Some nations such as Guinea-Bissau, Mali and Ethiopia have more than half of all children aged 5–14 at work to help provide for their families. 
Child labour is still common in many parts of the world. Estimates for child labour vary. It ranges between 250 and 304 million, if children aged 5–17 involved in any economic activity are counted. If light occasional work is excluded, ILO estimates there were 153 million child labourers aged 5–14 worldwide in 2008. This is about 20 million less than ILO estimate for child labourers in 2004. Some 60 percent of the child labour was involved in agricultural activities such as farming, dairy, fisheries and forestry. Another 25 percent of child labourers were in service activities such as retail, hawking goods, restaurants, load and transfer of goods, storage, picking and recycling trash, polishing shoes, domestic help, and other services. The remaining 15 percent laboured in assembly and manufacturing in informal economy, home-based enterprises, factories, mines, packaging salt, operating machinery, and such operations. Two out of three child workers work alongside their parents, in unpaid family work situations. Some children work as guides for tourists, sometimes combined with bringing in business for shops and restaurants. Child labour predominantly occurs in the rural areas (70%) and informal urban sector (26%).
Contrary to popular beliefs, 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, then urban centres. Less than 3 percent of child labour aged 5–14 across the world work outside their household, or away from their parents. Child labour accounts for 22% of the workforce in Asia, 32% in Africa, 17% in Latin America, 1% in the US, Canada, Europe and other wealthy nations. The proportion of child labourers varies greatly among countries and even regions inside those countries. 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 114 million. Latin America and Caribbean region have lower overall population density, but at 14 million child labourers has high incidence rates too. 

Causes of Child Labour

Primary causes

International Labour Organisation (ILO) suggests poverty is the greatest single cause behind child labour. For impoverished households, income from a child’s work is usually crucial for his or her own survival or for that of the household. Income from working children, even if small, may be between 25 and 40% of the household income. 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. Many communities, particularly rural areas where between 60–70% of child labour is prevalent, do not possess adequate school facilities. 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. Child Labour in India1


Cultural causes
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. 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.
Macroeconomic causes
Biggeri and Mehrotra have studied the macroeconomic factors that encourage child labour. They focus their study on five Asian nations including India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Thailand and Philippines. 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, sise 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.

Child Labour

Child Labour1Child labour refers to the employment of children in any work that deprives children of their childhood, interferes with their ability to attend regular school, and that is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful. This practice is considered exploitative by many international organisations. Legislation across the world prohibit child labour. These laws do not consider all work by children as child labour; exceptions include work by child artists, family duties, supervised training, certain categories of work such as those by Amish children, some forms of child work common among indigenous American children, and others.

Child labour has existed to varying extents, through most of history. Before 1940, numerous children aged 5–14 worked in Europe, the United States and various colonies of European powers. These children mainly worked in agriculture, home-based assembly operations, factories, mining and in services such as newsies. 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 developing countries, with high poverty and poor schooling opportunities, child labour is still prevalent. In 2010, sub-saharan Africa had the highest incidence rates of child labour, with several African nations witnessing over 50 percent of children aged 5–14 working. Worldwide agriculture is the largest employer of child labour. Vast majority of child labour is found in rural settings and informal urban economy; children are predominantly employed by their parents, rather than factories. Poverty and lack of schools are considered as the primary cause of child labour.

Globally the incidence of child labour decreased from 25% to 10% between 1960 and 2003, according to the World Bank. Nevertheless, the total number of child labourers remains high, with UNICEF and ILO acknowledging an estimated 168 million children aged 5–17 worldwide, were involved in child labour in 2013.

Child Labour in India

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. 

On 23 June 1757, the English East India Company defeated Siraj-ud-Daula, the Nawab of Bengal, in the Battle of Plassey. The British thus became masters of east India (Bengal, Bihar, Orissa) – a prosperous region with a flourishing agriculture, industry and trade.[89] This led to a large amount of children being forced into labour due to the increasing need of cheap labour to produce large numbers of goods. Many multinationals often employed children because that they can be recruited for less pay, and have more endurance to utilise in factory environments.[99] Another reason many Indian children were hired was because they lack knowledge of their basic rights, they did not cause trouble or complain, and they were often more trustworthy. The innocence that comes with childhood was utilised to make a profit by many and was encouraged by the need for family income. 

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. 

Due to the increase of regulations and legal restrictions on child labour, there has been a 64 percent decline in child labour from 1993-2005. Although this is a great decrease in the country of India, there is still high numbers of children working in the rural areas of India. With 85 percent of the child labour occurring in rural areas, and 15 percent occurring in urban areas, there are still substantial areas of concern in the country of India. India has legislation since 1986 which allows work by children in non-hazardous industry. In 2013, the Punjab and Haryana High Court gave a landmark order that directed that there shall be a total ban on the employment of children up to the age of 14 years, be it hazardous or non-hazardous industries. However, the Court ruled that a child can work with his or her family in family based trades/occupations, for the purpose of learning a new trade/craftsmanship or vocation.

Child Labour in Africa

Child Labour in Africa2Children 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.

What industries children work in depends on if they grew up in a rural area or an urban area. Children who were born in urban areas often found themselves working for street vendors, washing cars, helping in construction sites, weaving clothing, and sometimes even working as exotic dancers.  While children who grew up in rural areas would work on farms doing physical labour, working with animals, and selling crops. Of all the child workers, the most serious cases involved street children and trafficked children due to the physical and emotional abuse they endured by their employers.  To address the issue of child labour, the United Nations Conventions on the Rights of the Child Act was implemented in 1959.  Yet due to poverty, lack of education and ignorance, the legal actions were not/are not wholly enforced or accepted in Africa.

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.

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