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.