Child labor in Western countries

A girl at a weaving factory. Photography by Lewis Hine
A girl at a weaving factory. Lewis Photography

In Russia in the 19th century, children also worked equally with adults, and this was a big problem. My eight-year-old great-grandfather helped some merchant at the market at the beginning of the 20th century. But Western countries seemed more interesting to me. It seems like the industrial revolution, work should be easier, but no. Even children as young as five worked. You look at the current ones, and it just doesn’t fit in your head. Although a different generation, a different reality. I think the last generation that would theoretically be capable of this just grew up during the war years. Then the benefits of civilization, the right laws finally allowed children to feel at least a little like children. But I started talking. Let's look at 19th century child labor using the examples of England, the USA and France.


England was the first to enter the industrial revolution. New factories and factories opened, where even children went to work for pennies. Child labor was exploited and the wealth of the rich grew. At the beginning of the century before last, children even worked 16 hours! In coal mines, many did not live to be 25 years old.

Children in poor families were a burden for their parents, which is why they were often sent to work. There they at least brought in some pretty penny. Often, in the Victorian era, so revered by the British, children worked as chimney sweeps. I found information that three-year-old children worked, but I doubt it. Five or six – I can still believe it. Thanks to their small parameters, they easily made their way into the chimney and cleaned it. Elbows, palms, knees - all covered in cuts and abrasions from the brickwork. Lungs in soot. Someone got stuck in a pipe. Then they specially lit the fireplace so that the child would try with all his might to get out. It’s clear that the idea is so-so. Many simply suffocated because of this. Chimney sweeps beat children to force them to do difficult work. Some children were not fed so that they would remain thin and fit into chimneys. Dickens describes something similar in The Adventures of Oliver Twist. In general, this writer has a lot of books about the difficult childhood of English children.

Some of the children loaded carts with coal, others dragged these carts through tunnels up to 1 meter high. Because of this, their spines became curved. Other children closed and opened hatches for passing carts. They worked in complete darkness for up to 18 hours a day. They received a few pennies a week. In 1842, the proportion of children and youth in coal and metallurgical mines ranged from 19 to 40%.

English engraving from the 1840s
English engraving from the 1840s

In the 30s, human rights activists began to become interested in child labor. One of the reformers, Richard Oastler, sought to improve working conditions. He quoted the words of one slave owner to the special commission on this issue:

“Well, I always considered myself disgraced for being the owner of black slaves, but we never thought that any human being could be so cruel as to require a nine-year-old child to work 12 and a half hours a day. And this is your usual practice."

At the same time, some children preferred to work rather than be at home. The conditions and attitude of their relatives towards them were even worse than at work at the factory. In the Victorian era, 10 people lived in an area of ​​15-25 square meters. m in complete unsanitary conditions. The slums were infested with vermin and disease was rampant there. It is not surprising that of two evils, some children preferred the lesser.

In 1841, the most common occupations for boys were agricultural labor, domestic service, and cotton production. 196, 640 and 90 people under 464 years of age, respectively. In 44, 833 girls were domestic servants, 20 were employed in cotton production, and 1841 were dressmakers.

According to the law of 1841, children under 10 years old could not work in coal mines. In 1847, a new law was passed that established a 10-hour working day. Since 1874, children under 10 years of age could only work in light manufacturing.


Yes, it is now the United States that has become detached from everyone; there are many different rights there, some of which we do not understand. But that's not the point. Children there and here at the age of five already understand smartphones, learn to read, go to sections, and just play on the playground. But more than a century ago, a five-year-old child worked in a textile factory, picking cotton in the fields. And he did it for 14 hours. Child labor appeared there from the very beginning of colonization. But in the industrial era it only intensified. The USA abolished slavery, but what about without cheap labor? The children took on this burden. The children worked for pennies. Children did not unionize. The children did not protest.

At the turn of the 18th and 15th centuries, about XNUMX% of children under XNUMX worked. At the same time, they could not go to school. But they worked in dangerous places. They were hired to work in mines and factories. And they did what adults couldn't do. For example, thanks to your height, you can climb under a machine or climb inside to fix something.

Working children neglected education, were malnourished, and underweight. Most had a curved spine, broken arms and legs. There was not enough money for treatment. These children had no childhood, no wonderful youth. They only had adult responsibilities.

In the 70s, lobbyists took notice. In the 80s they wanted to ban children under 14 from working, but to no avail. In 1904, the National Committee on Child Labor appeared. Its members inspected factories and factories to find out working conditions. They tried to put forward laws. But nothing helped. And then they hired photographer and sociologist Lewis Hine, who began visiting factories and photographing child labor. It was his photographs that gave impetus to the adoption of the first child labor laws in the United States.

Lewis Hine
Lewis Hine

Lewis often tricked his way into factories. He pretended to be a seller or negotiated with workers. I interviewed them and documented them. Sometimes he did it secretly. Thanks to his work, the United States learned about the difficult lot of boys selling newspapers, assemblers in heavy industry factories, etc. Lewis took about 5000 photographs over several years. As a result, the government became interested in his work. And in 1916, the United States adopted the Keating-Owens Act, which established a minimum threshold of 14 years, a ban on night work, and an eight-hour working day.

Hein has many stories. Somewhere children were working in a cigar factory, rolling leaves. Somewhere they were sewing dolls for which they had no money. Somewhere they worked with lubricant. Like, for example, Henry, a 14-year-old boy who worked in a mine. He carried two buckets of lubricant, and his path passed along the tracks where carts with coal drove. It's dangerous in the dark. Henry, thanks to Hein, became a symbol of the child labor movement. Then he served in the First World War, returned, got married, started a family and went to work in the mine again. And at the age of 34, when his wife was pregnant with their first child, he was crushed by a stone at work.

Children at the mine. In the center is the same Henry. Photography by Lewis Hine
Children at the mine. In the center is the same Henry. Photography by Lewis Hine

There are many stories of children dying or being injured at work. Giles, for example, worked in a spinning mill. Some kind of mechanism fell on his leg, the boy jumped away and fell under the machine. The gears of the spinning machine cut off two of his fingers. The girl Estelle's hand gave out after she caught her hand on a machine at a cotton factory. All the fingers are intact, but apparently the tendon was injured, and the hand became stiff forever. But fifteen-year-old Frank worked 18 hours at a factory that produced books. Around two in the morning he fell asleep at the machine; his hand got caught under the cutter and two fingers were torn off. Two years of trial and he gets $10.


Industrialization in France of the century before last was not particularly different from the same period in England and the USA. The same child labor, the same minimum wages for workers.

France entered the 19th century as a rural country. The Industrial Revolution reached it along with the waves of the English Channel and from there spread throughout Europe. Children worked mainly on farms. If a child is not from a wealthy family, then from an early age he went to the field, stable, barracks, where they found him a suitable job. Not to say that the industrial revolution brought something new specifically to child labor. But she made it significantly worse. It seems to me that working in the same factory or weaving factory is more difficult than in the fields. I know it’s difficult here and there if you work long and hard, especially for a child, but it seems to me that it’s somehow easier in nature.

The children went down into the mines and went to the factories. And only in the 30s of the same century did adults think about softening the children's share. In 1833, the Guizot Law came into force, which obliged all settlements with more than 500 people to open schools. Yes, the law did not prohibit children from working and did not limit their time. But if a child goes to school, then he works less. This helped some people a lot.

In 1841, the French passed a child labor law. Children under eight years of age were now prohibited from working. Of course, unofficially they could help their parents somewhere on the farms. But I haven’t set foot in industry. Ten years later, a new law was passed that prohibited children under 14 from working more than 10 hours a day. The working day for children 14-16 years old was reduced to 12 hours.

In the 70s of the last century, the Third Republic came, which finally decided to tackle social issues. Children under 12 years of age are required to go to school. If they worked, it was for some small thing and only after studying. For example, they cleaned shoes. Children from 12 years old could be hired. It was forbidden to work at night. Sunday is a day off for all children under 16 years of age. Yes, laws were broken everywhere. But at least they were accepted. At the end of the 13th century, the minimum age was raised to XNUMX years. The labor inspectorate was already better at monitoring the implementation of laws, and employers were subject to large fines for violations.


Yes, I am pleased that my articles receive dozens of comments. So you're interested. I don’t have time to read everything, but still. To give some of my "fans" another reason to comment, I will leave some documents and sources from which I took information. I would like the computer to translate everything for me and edit it at the same time. But no, GPT4 has not reached me yet. Therefore, on free evenings I find an interesting topic, look for sources and read.

Some sources. Read it, there's a lot of interesting stuff there:
British House of Commons meeting
Testimony of Richard Oastler
And more articles on The Guardian, BBC, Daily Mail, works by Carolyn Tuttle, Lewis Hine and much more.

Boy selling newspapers. Photography by Lewis Hine
Boy selling newspapers. Photography by Lewis Hine
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  1. +5
    6 March 2024 05: 25
    England was the first to enter the industrial revolution.
    But no one abolished slavery, it only changed video.
  2. +5
    6 March 2024 05: 57
    My grandfather, born in 1920, began working in a gang of zhigars (charcoal burners) with his father at the age of 10. The share was equal to the female 1/2. At the end of 7th grade, he was sent to the “city” to help relatives. He was apprenticed to a hairdresser, where he worked before being drafted into the army.
    Good morning everyone, have a nice day and less work!!!
  3. +8
    6 March 2024 08: 07
    Was everything normal with child labor in the Republic of Ingushetia at that time? What the author was ashamed of and did not write about it. Are bakers shy?
    1. +7
      6 March 2024 08: 38
      Quote: ALARI
      What the author was ashamed of and did not write about it.

      Everything has already been described before us.
      Dear grandfather, do God's mercy, take me home from here, to the village, there is no way for me... I bow at your feet and I will forever pray to God, take me away from here, otherwise I will die...
    2. +8
      6 March 2024 10: 09
      And what does RI have to do with it, if I was interested in the West?) You can talk about the empire separately, I thought. Moreover, there are stories from relatives that have been passed down from generation to generation. And yes, life was terrible for the children back then. But, I repeat, the goal was about the West
      1. -1
        6 March 2024 12: 21
        This is healthy criticism from the author's readers. Response and request from the field.
    3. +3
      6 March 2024 21: 28
      Quote: ALARI
      Was everything normal with child labor in the Republic of Ingushetia at that time? What the author was ashamed of and did not write about it. Are bakers shy?

      And if the author wrote only about child labor in the Republic of Ingushetia, would you ask a question about the “civilized” West? Somehow I doubt it. wink
      1. -1
        7 March 2024 08: 07
        Strangely enough, I live on the territory of the former Republic of Ingushetia and I’m more interested in what happened in these territories, and not somewhere else. There's no need to doubt Yes
        1. 0
          9 March 2024 03: 33
          I also live in this territory and the topic of child slavery has already set my teeth on edge, and the USSR especially tried - I still remember the illustrations from children’s books. But this is the first time I’ve read something like this about the West. And to be honest, I did this in the 19th and early 20th centuries. I couldn’t even imagine. Naive... And somehow Hollywood films don’t make about this. They are shy.
          1. 0
            18 May 2024 11: 45
            Oh well, it’s okay to fill in that this is the first time you’ve heard it. Since the times of the union, it has set the teeth on edge, but the fact that it is from school in the union that they are talking about child labor in the West for the first time has never been heard. Well, well, we believe, we believe.
    4. -1
      7 March 2024 21: 45
      Long described
      "......Several charred bones fell onto the iron grating floor, then with a loud and empty thud a round piece of a small skull fell out. Launched again, the poker dragged out something that had fallen loudly to the floor. Gibbins bent down and picked up a small iron box, in which cheap candies are being packaged. The box was covered with dark soot. The captain took out a knife and, putting it under the lid, opened the box. At the bottom of it lay several copper buttons and a dollar black from the fire."
  4. +2
    6 March 2024 08: 44
    After raising the retirement age, capitalists have something to strive for..
  5. +12
    6 March 2024 09: 35
    In Russia, “which we lost,” there was simply hell in relation to child labor. The Bolsheviks were unable to build heaven on earth, but they were able to remove hell.
    1. +4
      6 March 2024 09: 47
      Well, the current ones managed to return hell, but they promise everyone heaven... But then...
      1. +6
        6 March 2024 09: 51
        Quote from: dmi.pris1
        Well, the current ones managed to return hell, but they promise everyone heaven...

        I’m not a Putinist, but I don’t see anything even remotely similar to child labor in the pre-revolutionary years, but the attitude towards children is very similar to the late Soviet era. Although I can’t deny the failure in the 90s, it smelled like sulfur back then...
      2. +6
        6 March 2024 14: 22
        Quote from: dmi.pris1
        Well, the current ones managed to return hell, but they promise everyone heaven... But then...

        I’ll write a seditious thought - “you need to get used to work from a young age.”
        Several years ago I was in the office of one of the leading metallurgical companies in the Urals. The 14-year-old daughters of the general director and his first deputy worked as an assistant to personnel specialists and a clerk in the office. The assistant director to whom I came said that this happens every summer - two months out of three. The director’s son is entering a university this year, and from the age of 13 to 17 he went through “school”, from a mechanic’s assistant to a quality control operator.
        1. +3
          6 March 2024 14: 24
          Interesting. Will the son of a simple hard worker, a very smart and talented boy, be hired for such a position? Or is this already for the boyars of their blood?
          1. 0
            7 March 2024 10: 33
            Quote from: dmi.pris1
            And the son of a simple hard worker, a very smart and talented boy, will they take such a place? Or is this already for the boyars of their blood?

            Locksmith's assistant?
            1. 0
              16 March 2024 15: 12
              A mechanic is a dangerous profession, child labor is prohibited.
          2. 0
            18 May 2024 11: 48
            I confirm, they will take it. AMZ, my friend, the son of a mechanic, went to work as an apprentice with his dad at the plant in 93, today he is a shop manager with prospects to go higher.
  6. +2
    6 March 2024 20: 06
    My grandfather was born in 1925. From the age of 14 he worked on a collective farm, and in the garden from the time he learned to walk. Mom born in 1953 From the first grade I worked in the school garden and took the whole class out to the collective farm fields and worked on the vegetable garden in our own garden. Since childhood, I have earned every piece of bread with my own sweat, and children worked on the collective farm fields for free. So, there is no need for fairy tales about a “bright future.” Both mother and father worked since childhood.
    1. -1
      6 March 2024 23: 42
      My great-grandmother is from the village; she lived near Volokolamsk all her life.
      1900+ some year of birth. There were 5-6 sisters and a brother. After two world wars, only she and her older sister survived, who died in 99 a couple of days before the centenary. My great-grandmother passed away at the age of 94+.
      She told me that as girls they had been herding cows since they were 8-10 years old and this was the norm. They also milked them. I didn’t ask about who carried the buckets.
      Total. Children are out in nature, on their own, and herding cows - all at once.
      1. The comment was deleted.
    2. AB
      7 March 2024 09: 21
      A bright future still needs to be built. I helped my father from a young age. I plowed in the gardens with my relatives, and they didn’t pay me either. So what? The bloody Yeltsin-Putin regime?... Plowing in the fields from a young age is the norm for the village. But about free labor on a collective farm - it’s very doubtful. Most likely, the parents had their workdays written down or were then given grain. Otherwise, their parents wouldn’t have let them there.
      1. 0
        7 March 2024 14: 57
        I wrote about how my mother and her class went to the collective farm fields, to collect ears of corn, to weed, and when they got older, they weeded wheat, and there was also a school garden and the schoolchildren were not paid for their work. My grandfather had a stack of government bonds, so that not only was the collective farmer’s salary a penny, but part of the salary was also given in bonds. At 73, my mother could not get a passport to go to the city, only with a Komsomol voucher. So, under the tsar and under the communists, life was not sweet in the village.
        1. AB
          7 March 2024 15: 08
          Ah, sorry, I didn’t read it carefully. But taking the whole class to the fields is a normal practice that cannot be repeated now: the motivation is not the same. And about passports - it smacks of nonsense. All my relatives calmly left villages and collective farms at all times. In the 20s, in the 30s, in the 50s, etc. There were also relatives who preferred to stay on the collective farm. They said that there was a lot of money, and not only at the end of the country.. But there was no time to waste: there was simply an incredible amount of work, people were literally sewing up. And the workers were all leaving for the city (this again comes to the topic of the impossibility of obtaining passports and leaving). My mother said that my great-grandfather, a peasant under the tsars and a collective farmer under the Bolsheviks, tirelessly repeated to the young people how well they lived now, not like under the tsars.
  7. AB
    7 March 2024 09: 16
    Very interesting article. Thank you. And the topic is especially relevant, considering where our legislation is heading.
  8. 0
    15 March 2024 01: 18
    Thank you for the article. Reminds me of Jack London's story
  9. 0
    22 March 2024 19: 10
    Kisilev I.Ya Labor law of Russia and other countries. M.Eksmo2005.
    On August 07.08.1845, 12, a regulation was adopted prohibiting factory owners from assigning minors under XNUMX years of age to night work.
    01.06.1882/24/06 The law on minors working in factories and factories was adopted, prohibiting the assignment of minors under 12 years of age to shifts from XNUMX to XNUMX hours, but the law did not provide for sanctions for its violation.
    With the development of the labor movement in the 1880s, a ban was introduced on night shifts and hazardous work for persons from 12 to 15 years old and a limit on the working day was introduced.
    The law of 3.071885 prohibited night work for women and persons under 17 years of age.
    The law of April 24.04.1890, XNUMX expanded the opportunities for night work for adolescents and women.
    1903-1917 regulations were changed and adjusted.
    The law of 02.06.1903/XNUMX/XNUMX introduced the employer’s financial liability for material damage and death of employees, except in cases of liability insurance from a third-party insurer.
    The law of July 03.07.1889, XNUMX recommended the creation of schools at industrial enterprises.
    1880s a working inspection of 20 people was created at the Ministry of Finance.
    Law of 03.06.1886/XNUMX/XNUMX regulation of labor relations + increase in factory inspection ranks regulation of labor hiring.
  10. 0
    22 March 2024 19: 12
    Council of People's Commissars of the USSR

    from 16 March 1930 of the year


    In some localities of the USSR, local authorities, as well as collective farm organizations, impede the free retirement of peasants, especially collective farmers, to trade and seasonal work.
    Such arbitrary actions, disrupting the implementation of the most important economic plans (construction, logging and others.), Cause great harm to the national economy of the USSR.
    The Council of People's Commissars of the USSR decides:
    1. Resolutely prohibit local authorities and collective farm organizations from in any way preventing the departure of peasants, including collective farmers, to waste trades and seasonal work (construction work, logging, fishing, etc.).
    2. District and regional executive committees, under the personal responsibility of their chairmen, are obliged to immediately establish strict monitoring of the implementation of this resolution and bring its violators to criminal liability.

    Chairman of the Council of People's Commissars of the USSR

    SNK of the USSR and STO