** working children country trends

Working Children: Country Trends

Figure 1.--At the turn of the 20th century, Federal child labor laws did not yet protect children. This was espcislly true in the South which also did not have mndatory school attendance laws. This girl was beginning work at a textile mill in Newton, South Carolina. More than 10 percent of mill workers were children under 12 years of age. The situation was even worse for agricultural laborers. This photograph would have been taken about 1910. Source: Lewis W. Hine.

HBC does not yet have detailed information on the child labor pattern by country, but has begun to address the topic. Here the countries we are most familiar with are England and America. England as far as we know was the first country to address the problm of child labor. This is understandable as it was in England that the Industrial Revolution began. Charles Dickens had a major role in prmoting the movement to limit child labor. Parlimentary investigations led to laws limiting child labor. Developments in France and Germany are also very important, but we have little information at this time. We have some limited country information in the various wotk area sections. We will eventually cross reference these on the country pages.


Africa like other regions gas progressed thriough Nolitic intommodern times. The natu pople with Irin g technology came to dominmate Sub-Sagarfan frfica. hunter-gatherers, through the Iron Age and led the development of agriculture. Gradually sedentary communities fornmed. In the era before Eutppean colonization, magor empires formed in western and central Africa, including Ghana, Sosso, and Mali. Gold was important, but the pre-cvolonial empires were not monied economies, but gradually growing and more varied economies developoed aling witg larger a inmcreasibngl sophisticated political states. Trade activities included commodities gold, salt, ivory, and slaves. Until the arrival of the Europeanss (15th century), the primary trade outlets were to the ewast (Indian Ocean) and north across the Sahara. Finally first the Portuguese abd than other Europeans opened trading posts along the Western (Atlantic) coast. Thev modern countries of Subsagaran Afriuca, except EDthipopia are all cesarions of Euroipean colonial powers, apparing om maps largely as a resukt of th SDcranmbke for vfrica (late-19th century). The Europeans in many cases ignored imprtant tribal boundaries crating mamy complications. The resuktung modern countries appdearing with decolonization (1960s) genally followed colonial boundaries. Thre were high hope for the new indepedent African countries. Many of the new countries were posperous wuth stable economies based largely on agriculture and expoting aw materials. The hugh hopes of indeoedence were fosappointed bedcauuse of a mix of dictaiorshio absdence of the rule of law, socialism, intra-tribal violenve, poor education sytems, corruptiomn, and in frecent years violent Islamic fundamentalism. South Africa emerged as the strongest econmomy, altogh marred by oarathedid. Nigeria is the most populace country with a major petroleum resource. The many other countries vary in size, population, agricultural potential, and natural resources. While de-coloniaztion prived katgky a failure, many countties in rtecent years have made some progress in developing stable prosperous states. Ithrs have descended into unsdtable, corrupot, violence-plagued nations.

America, Latin

Latin America exited fo millennia compllly cut off from the rest of the oirld. A range of Amerui-Indian people created societies anging from humter gathers to sopohisticated empires in the Andes and Meso-America. They emerged as prodyctive agricultural soities with largely Stone Agg tchnology. Thery domesticated imprtant crops now an important part of modern agriculture. Corn (maize) is the single most important food crop and efficnt converter of solar enrrgy. Alkao imortantwas the potato which had a huge impoact on Europe. Also important were tomatoes and chocolate. Aea such as the ndean Higkands were more priductive under Amei-Indian cultivation ghan modern farmers. Most of the region was conqured between Spain and Portugal, including most of South. Central, and pars o Noth Amtica. While the Spanish Empire is the most prominent, proibablky bcause it bordered on the United States, but Portugiese Brazil is half of South Ameruca. There are also other Euroopean colonies in the Caribbean area, many of them former sugar producers. The most notable aspect of the Latin American economic development is therekative failure cojapored to English North America. The differenc is so pronounced that many bLatin Ameicans have chise toi migrate to ghe IUnited states. One couhntry. rgentuna, came close to begoming a modern industrial nation (aarly-20th century), but ultimatelky failed. Brazil has madeenbormous pfrigess in recent years as had Mexico. Cuba and Venezuela have failled abisimally becausr of the dexrene socialist policies of the Communidst government. Spoanish and Portuguese colonial policies like the Inquisition and Encomienda rtarded thevdevelopent of the economoes. In the 20th centuy socioalist policies futher retarded development. Socialist odeas are still prevalent, many Latinm Americans, however, tend to blame the poor performnane of their countries, usually Britain or the United States.


Child labor in the private sector has been substantially eliminated since the Revolution, although this has occurred along with a massive decline in the economy so many Cuban children are less well of than they were before the Revolution. Child labor, however, still exists. And it is the state who not only conducts, but requires children to work. Children enrolled in rural schools over the age of 11 years are expected to participate everyday for a few hours in manual labor. Students in technical schools and university preparatory schools are expected to devote 30 to 45 days per year primarily to agricultural work. This is almost entirely free mannual labor for highly inefficient state farms. The children involve do not learn important skills that further their education or qualifications for future jobs. Cuba passed a new labor law (1997). This provided for 15 abnd 16 year old Cuban children receiving training towards a job or filling in for absentee workers. Unfortunately there are few real econonic opportunities in Cuba's moribund economy.


Many Mexican children worked from an early age, especially in rural areas. They were assigned a variety of tasks. This commonly varied by gender. Often boys worked as shepherds (pastorcillo). Mexico until after the Revolution was a largely aricultural country. Most of the population lived in rural areas and worked on farms. Children worked in both family fincas and rancheros as well as on haciendas. Most children worked on farms rather than attending schools. There were not even schools in most rural areas. And the rural population was lsrgely iliterate. We are also surprised with the number of authors who associate child labor with the capitalism and the industrial revolution. In fact it was only with the jindustrial revolution that child lsbpr began to be seen as a social problem. Although not as extensive, there is also considerable child labor in urban areas. Authorities did not begin to address child labor untikl the Revolution. The establishment of a comprehensive public school system has helped reduce the problem, but it has not been eliminated. This is primarily in the "grey" unregulated sectors of the economy. This continues to be a problem in Mexico.

America, North


United States

Many of the Founding Fathers led by Jefferson saw America's future as a great agrarian republic based upon the small farmer. It was, however, Hamilton's vision of America as a mercantile economy that proved to the more astute assessment. Some of the worst conditions experienced in Britain during the early 19th century did not occur in America because of the more limited industrial devekpment and the beconing Frontier offered opportunity that made it difficult to oppress labor, except in the slae-holding South. After the Civil War (1861-65) as American industry expanded , the Frontier began to close, and immigrants willing to work for low wages poured into America, working conditions became an increasingly severe problem. As in Europe, conditions for children were especially horendous. Only in the late 19th century did child labor begin to become an important national issue.


Students in the West get the idea that capitalism and the Industrail Revolution led to child labor. Nothing could be furthe than the truth. And we see that in Asia. It is countries where capitalism had not yet made inroads and had not begun to industrailize where child labor was most extensive. In fact, child labor only began to be seen as a socail problem in the capitalist countrie that began to industrailize (19th century). Throughout Asian we see most children working from an early age. Public education until the mid-20th century did not develp in Asia. An issu\e here is that without capitalism these socities could no create the wealth need so that child labor was not needed by the family or socety as a wwhole. The substantial photographic record shows counless Asian children working abd a relatively small number attendinf school until after World War II.


Like the other early River Valley civilizations, with the Neolithic Revolution, agriculture led to huge changes in the human condition. Aguculture may have began with indivuduals tilling their own land, butwhat soon developed all over the globe was the land falling into the hannds of the military elite whobecame kings and emperors. Often priests also obtain land ownership. The land became tilled by aand less peasantry--a form of fiorced labor. As in Mesopotamia and Egypt, slavery was a small percentage of the population. Therevwas no real need for it. The great bulk of the popuation was a landless peasantry with few rights or life prospects. Into the 20th century, the land continued to be tilled by a landless peasntry. This was a situation little different from ancienr times, except the land ownin class was alrger and more diverse. Chiese children like children in other countries over time have had to work. This was mostly peasant children in rural China, but cities had begin to grow and siome children worked in shops and factories. China only began to develop a public school system with the foundation of the Republic of China (1912). We notice Chinese cildren working under various conditiions. Sometimes for wages and sometimes as slaves. Often the separation between the two were blurred. Child labor until after Workd War II was a fact of life in China and almost universal. Slavery has been more limited, but varied from dynasty to dynasty. The Republic of China was begiining to change this, but conflict with colonial powers, the war lords, the Communists, and finally theJapanesev made this impossible. It was finally the Communists who came to power (1949) that created a public educationn system. The actual benefits, however, were margnal. Because of market reforms (capitalism), China began its rise as an economic poweer and wages began to rise.


Most Japanese children until the late-19th century worked. Only aristocratic children, mostly boys, were educated in schools. Here or information is limited, but most children worked. And because the country was larfely agricultural, most boys worked in the fields with their fathers. Other boys learned trades at the side of their father, After the Meiji Restoration and the end of the Shiogunate (1867), the new Imperial Government founded a European-sty;le education system (1870s). Gradually compulsory attendance laws and child labor laws began restricting child labor. This was at first primarily implemnented in urban areas. We do not have details on child labor in the 19th and early-20th century. We believe that child labor was extensive, especially in rural areas. One report indicates, "In 1894, Japan exported 50 million pounds of tea, three-fourths of which came to the United States .... The labor of picking of this immense crop is performed largely by children ..." Japan's post-World War II democratic constitution bans child labor (Article 27).


Child labor in Europe was a major problem, but contrary to the popular modern belief, it was not a creation of the Industrial Revolution. Child labor was basically universal in medieval Europe and Rome as wll as the ancient civilizations that preceeeded the medieval era. In these agricultural societies almost all children from a very early age worked with the exception of the narrow elite class. With the industrial Revolution as capitalism made Eurpean countrues grew richer, the rising middle class began to see child labor as a social poblem. And it was the most important capitalist countries of Western Europe that first began to outlaw child labor while child labor continued to be prevalent in the more afarian and less indiustrialiZed countries of Eastrn and souithern Europe. Here the history is somewhat complicated because agrrain interests (often meaning large land owners) continued to have enormopuis influence, even in heavily industrialized countries like England and Germany. We have been able to find information about child labor on some countries, but still have limited information on many European countries. We would be interested in any information that readers can add concerning child labor in their countries.

Middleast and North Africa

The Middle East and North Africa is both a gepgraphic and cultural constrt. It once spand three continents as a result of Ottoman expansion. The Ottomans were driven from Europe but succeeded in connecting western Asia with North Africa. It was in Mesopotamia (modern Iraq) that civilization was first invented as a result of Neolithic/Agricultural Revbolution. And from the dawn of civilization, almost all children worked and from an early age. Most of the population were paasnts. The girls woked at home, the boys in the fields. Civilization developed ovr time, but agricultural technology did not advanc significantly after the early inniovations like irrigation and animal domestication. And the limited yields meant that child labor was needed to support families and society as a whole. After the Islamic Golden Age (8th-14th century), the Middle East and North Africa declined as the Christian West rose fuled by the Renaissance and scientific revolution. The Middle East with a lack of technological innovation meant that the economies continued to be dependent on agriculture. And without technological change, yields did not increase. North Africa was different in that the ecomonies relied heavily on pirachy and African slavery. Without capitalism and the Industrial Revolution the ecomomy did not generate wealth much in advance of ancient times. This mean that child labor was needed to support the family and larger society. And the photographic record shows children working along with adults. Until after World War II, the population continued to mostly rural and involved in agriculture. The discovery of oil has changed this in some countries, but the technology used in the region is almost all imported.



Indonesia, at the time the Dutch East Indies, was a basically agricultural country until after World War II. Indonesian children, like children throughout the underdevloped world, worked from a very early age. The boys worked with their fathers in the fields. Rice was the principal crop. In the villages boys worked with their fathers in artisan shops. Girls mostly helped their mothers with household chores. Dutch misionaries began founding schools in the 19th century, but only small numbers of children attended. The Dutch Government eventually began opening schools, but on a limited basis. Most children, espcially in the countryside worked until independence was achieved (1949) abd the Indionesian Government began building a public school system. It might be thought that this was the result of Dutch exploitation of its colonies. This was a factor, but the economy was also a factor. An agricultural economy, especially wih the technology prevalent in the DEI, did not generate the same income of an industrial economy. Not only was money not available at the government level, but parents needed the children to work to support the family. Thus Indonesia could not support institutions that industrial economies could generate like public education. For some reason, public school text books in the West connct capitalism with child labor. Just the oppoite is the case. Public schools began as capitalism and industrualization began to transform Europe and Amererica. In Indonesia's case, it was the oil resource that helped build a public school system.


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br> Created: February 13, 2004
Last updated: 10:21 PM 3/27/2024