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The Industrial Revolution beginning in the 1700s lead to overpopulation of cities hoping to make their fortune. Families moved into cities where factories were growing and expanding. To support the supply chains there was a need for a bigger workforce one that included child labourers. The child labourers started work at a young age working in poor conditions that caused multiple injuries.
Child labour is where children as young as four are taken from workhouses and orphanages or sent to work by their parents to earn little to nothing. There was a high demand for labour and children were cheaper to pay. Child labourers could do more closer to the machines with smaller hands and bodies than adults. These children worked with machinery, sold newspapers, cleaned chimneys and girls made matches in factories, boys worked in coal mines for long hours. Young children around the age of four cleaned chimneys that were cramped and tight. Their bodies were contorted to fit the chimneys and because of this their malleable bones would develop deformities. Children were more preferable to employ than adults as they were more versatile and saved money. The poverty in the cities meant that the entire family had to work to support themselves.
Young children started work at the age of four, five or six and up worked long hours with the extreme being nineteen hours with a one hour break. The usual shift was twelve to fourteen hours with a minimal break. Children would start work at five am and finish at nine pm. These were the common start and finish times though they would vary. These long hours only earnt them little pay or nothing. Orphans were paid nothing this was justified by them receiving shelter, clothes and food. Other children received wages that were a fraction of what an adult was paid for the same job. The children that were paid received 20% of what an adult received.
Life in the factories was dangerous and many children were injured with carrying severity or killed. The children worked near dangerous unguarded machinery with moving parts. In some factories, children did not receive a break for eating the food with little or no nutritional value and had to multitask. Children were punished for not working hard enough, getting tired and lateness. These actions were punished by neglected child safety, verbal abuse, beatings and Weighting. Weighting was a punishment where the child had heavy weights tied around their neck and was forced to work up and down the factory aisles to set an example. This form of punishment leads to neck and back injuries. Children were beaten with a strap regularly. When children got tired the supervisor would dunk their head in a cistern filled with cold water. Sometimes cutting off hair was used as a punishment for the girls.
Injuries from dangerous working conditions were common. One hospital reported treating thousands of people yearly for injuries and mutilations caused in the workplace. Some injuries were caused by punishments and the rest from the working conditions. Deaths were also frequent where children were pulled into the machinery by loose clothes and would be killed. The mines where children also worked were dangerous and sometimes they would collapse and kill the children working in them. The long hours were often spent standing up which caused problems from the legs down. The bones of young children were not full grown and would be deformed this was often the cause in chimney sweepers were they would go up the twisting chimneys and be in cramped spaces with contorted body positions for extended periods of time. The boys working in the mines developed asthma and lung conditions because of the coal dust. The work sites were unsafe and many had dangerous chemicals that caused illnesses. The injuries sustained by workers did not earn them compensation and caused their wages to be terminated immediately.
During a significant section of the 18th century, ‘35% of ten-year-old working-class boys were in the labour force.’ In ‘1791 to 1820 the percentage increased from 55% to 60% from 1821 to 1850’. The ‘eight-year-old boys also increased from 20% to 33⅓ %.’ In the Industrial Revolution, ‘18% of families were abandoned by their fathers.’ By the early 19th century, of the million child workers, 15% were seven to ten years old. Over half of the workers in the early 1800s in Britsh factories were under fourteen years old.
These conditions didn’t improve until the Factory Act in 1933. This Act limited hours children could work. Nine to thirteen-year-olds could work a maximum of 8 hours. Fourteen to eighteen-year-olds could work a maximum of twelve hours. Children under nine were not permitted to work any hours. All children had to attend school for a least two hours every day. Some workers established unions to acquire better working conditions and higher pay.
The Industrial Revolution impacted the lives of children and families in many ways. The children previously worked on farms had their lives changed they moved to work in factories with poor working conditions, common injuries and diseases, low pay, neglected safety and long hours. Though the Industrial Revolution made the way for advancing technology child slave labour was not improved for some time. The practice of child slave labour still takes place today in the modern world.
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