The industrial revolution began in the mid-eighteenth century, in 1760. It was a huge revolution that transformed the agriculture and handicraft-based economies into mechanized manufacturing, large-scale industrial production, and factory-based economies. The advancement and development of technology made the existing factories all around the world more efficient and gave rise to new brands and factories. Brand new machinery was made, reducing manual handling of goods and increasing man-power to operate these machines.
The industrial revolution caused many families from the countryside to migrate to the cities to look for work, as everything was slowly shifting from manual labor to automated machines. Due to these families immigrating to the cities, the living conditions were abhorrent. The cities and towns were overcrowded with poor sanitation, pollution, and diseases were spreading faster. The workers had low wages that barely satisfied their essential and basic needs. Subsequently, these families depended on their children for extra income.
During this time, as business was booming, some factories couldn’t afford to employ adult workers that required high pay. As a result, they turned to children. Children under the age of 14 years were employed to work at textile factories and coal mines in horrible conditions with low wages. The factories were contained, and very cramped. Intermittently, the factories were constructed without windows or good ventilation, causing the temperature of the factories to increase drastically. These conditions severely impacted the worker’s physical and mental health.
There were many reasons why children were employed to work in the factories. As aforementioned, one of the main reasons was the significant difference in pay. Estimates show that children made 10-20% of what adults made doing the same work. Thus, the owners saved money. Second, children were generally more obedient and accepting of punishment than adults, so they were easier to control as well, whereas an adult would retaliate.
Third, children were hired because they were small and could fit into tiny spaces. This was useful especially for the new mechanized factories built in the late 18th century. For instance, textile mills had machines that spun thread at great speeds. The children’s nimble fingers were optimal for unclogging these machines, making them a crucial part of the production process.
These machines were incredibly dangerous, especially for little children to operate. At times these machines were left unguarded, which was a great risk to the children working in the factories. Sometimes, the children weren’t tall enough to operate the machines safely and had to stand on top of the machines to reach the spindles. Furthermore, the owners of the factories gave these children ill-fitting clothing which was meant
for adults. This was a huge risk to the safety of the children because it was very much possible for the clothing to get stuck in the various gears of the machine. Unfortunate children have also died because of this.
Injuries were very common while working with these machines. The aforementioned machines in textile mills that spun thread at high speeds were very dangerous and could harm the children’s fingers. Due to this, they had to be very careful and cautious while unclogging them. There have been many times where a child has lost a finger or two.
In the 19th century, people came to their senses and fought against child labor. Unions were formed to prevent factories from employing children under the age of 14, and children above 14 were required to have an official contract in order to work. Factory owners went so far as to try and stop these unions by paying union leaders and hiring trusted workers.
Finally, two important pieces of legislation were passed against child labor- the Factory Act (1833) and the Mines Act (1842). These acts prevented the employment of children younger than 9 years of age and limited the number of hours these children could work.
In conclusion, the industrial revolution was a great revolution that helped in the development of cities and the advancement of technology all around the world. Although, due to the change from manual labour to automated machines, families had to find jobs, and relied on their children for extra income. The children worked in factories and toiled in harsh conditions that drastically impacted their physical, mental, and emotional health. Laws and acts were later passed to abolish child labour, which restricted child labour and ensured that they were in a healthy and safe environment.
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