Child Labor

child labor, use of the young as workers in factories, farms, and mines. Child labor was first recognized as a social problem with the introduction of the factory system in late 18th-century Great Britain. Children had formerly been apprenticed (see apprenticeship) or had worked in the family, but in the factory their employment soon constituted virtual slavery, especially among British orphans. This was mitigated by acts of Parliament in 1802 and later.

Similar legislation followed on the European Continent as countries became industrialized. Although most European nations had child labor laws by 1940, the material requirements necessary during World War II brought many children back into the labor market. Legislation concerning child labor in other than industrial pursuits, e.g., in agriculture, has lagged.

In the Eastern and Midwestern United States, child labor became a recognized problem after the Civil War, and in the South after 1910. Congressional child labor laws were declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1918 and 1922. A constitutional amendment was passed in Congress in 1924 but was not approved by enough states. The First Labor Standards Act of 1938 set a minimum age limit of 18 for occupations designated hazardous, 16 for employment during school hours for companies engaged in interstate commerce, and 14 for employment outside school hours in nonmanufacturing companies. In 1941 The Supreme Court ruled that Congress had the constitutional authority to pass this act.

Nearly all member nations of the International Labor Organization (ILO) regulate the employment of children in industry, and most also regulate commercial work; some nations regulate work in the street trades, while a few control agricultural and household work. Despite such regulation attempts, as many as 26% of all children between the ages of 5 and 14 (an estimated 246 million children) were engaged in economic activity in 2005, with the highest percentage in developing nations in sub-Saharan Africa. Not all such work is considered child labor, but some 186 million children were estimated to be involved in child labor as defined under international agreements. The 1973 ILO Minimum Age Convention, banning any form of child labor, has been ratified by 117 nations. In 1999, ILO members unanimously approved a treaty banning any form of child labor that endangers the safety, health, or morals of children, but the treaty covered such universally objectionable forms of work as slavery, forced labor, child prostitution, criminal activity, and forced military recruitment and could be seen as a step backward from the 1973 treaty. The treaty was also criticized for permitting voluntary enlistment in the military by persons under the age of 18.

See W. Trattner, Crusade for the Children (1970); also annual reports of the National Child Labor Committee.

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2013, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

The Economics of Child Labour
Alessandro Cigno; Furio C. Rosati.
Oxford University Press, 2005
Sacrificial Lambs of Globalization: Child Labor in the Twenty-First Century
Panjabi, Ranee Khooshie Lal.
Denver Journal of International Law and Policy, Vol. 37, No. 3, Summer 2009
A Cross-National Study of Child Labor and Its Determinants
Saad-Lessler, Joelle.
The Journal of Developing Areas, Vol. 44, No. 1, Fall 2010
Universal Moral Principles and the Law: The Failure of One-Size-Fits-All Child Labor Laws
Browne, M. Neil; Frondorf, Alex; Harrison-Spoerl, Ronda; Krishnan, Sumangali.
Houston Journal of International Law, Vol. 27, No. 1, Fall 2004
Child Labor: Myths, Theories and Facts
Lopez-Calva, Luis F.
Journal of International Affairs, Vol. 55, No. 1, Fall 2001
Hard at Work in Factories and Mines: The Economics of Child Labor during the British Industrial Revolution
Carolyn Tuttle.
Westview Press, 1999
A Thing of the Past? Child Labour in Britain in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries
Michael Lavalette.
Liverpool University Press, 1999
Business and Human Rights: A Compilation of Documents
Radu Mares.
Brill, 2004
Librarian’s tip: Child labor is discussed throughout
Free Trade under Fire
Douglas A. Irwin.
Princeton University Press, 2009 (3rd edition)
Librarian’s tip: Discussion of child labor is in section "Should Trade Agreements Have Labor Standards?" which begins on p. 211
The Self-Regulating Corporation: How Corporate Codes Can Save Our Children
Jaffe, Natasha Rossell; Weiss, Jordan D.
Fordham Journal of Corporate & Financial Law, Vol. 11, No. 4, September 1, 2006
Labor Market Integration and Its Effect on Child Labor
Gartner, Manfred.
Atlantic Economic Journal, Vol. 39, No. 2, June 2011
The Baland-Robinson Theory of Child Labor Efficiency: A Proposed Extension
Gao, Feng; Wahid, Abu N. M.
American Economist, Vol. 53, No. 2, Fall 2009
Child Labor in India: From Welfarist to Economic Perspective
Maheshwari, Mridul; Singh, Manjari.
South Asian Journal of Management, Vol. 16, No. 4, October-December 2009
Conquistadores de la Calle: Child Street Labor in Guatemala City
Thomas A. Offit.
University of Texas Press, 2008
The New Woman in Alabama: Social Reforms, and Suffrage, 1890-1920
Mary Martha Thomas.
University of Alabama Press, 1992
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 5 "Club Women and Child Labor, 1903-1919"
The American Welfare System: Origins, Structure, and Effects
Howard Gensler.
Praeger, 1996
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 4 "Child Labor and the Mother's Pension Movement"
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