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Child Labor Essay

2327 words - 10 pages

Child labor was and is still an existing practice in the world today. Manuel, a five-year old worked at a seafood cannery in Biloxi, Mississippi, with a shrimp pail in each hand and a mountain of oyster shells behind his back. He is typical for thousands of working children in the years before the civil war, especially the turn of the century. America's army of child laborers had been growing steadily for the past century. The nation's economy was expanding. Factories, minds and mills needed plenty of cheap labor. Around 1911, more than two million American children under the age of 16 years of age were a regular part of the work force. Many of them worked twelve hours or more a day, ...view middle of the document...

He felt so strongly about the use of children as industrial workers that he quit his teaching job to become an investigative photographer for the National Child Labor Committee (NCLC).

Hine carrying a simple box camera traveled back and forth across the country, from sardine canneries of Maine to the cotton fields of Texas. He took pictures of kids at work, listened to their stories, and reported on their lives.

His obvious goal was to reveal to the world the horrors of child labor and move people into action. There is a big difference between children who worked at odd jobs after school or did chores around the house or the family farm. No one could object to youngsters working as trainees and apprentices, merely learning skills they would use for the rest of their life. The campaign against child labor was not directed to them. It was aimed at the exploitation of boys and girls as cheap labor. The object, Hine points out, of employing children is not to train them, but to get high profits from their work.

Because children could be hired cheaply and were too small to complain, they were often employed to replace adult workers. In industries when large numbers of children were employed, their low wages pulled down the earnings of everyone else, so that grown-ups could not earn enough to support their families. As a result, poor families needed their children's wages just to survive.

As criticism of child labor grew, a number of states passed laws regulating working hours and wages for children. But more often that not, those laws were filled with loopholes and favored manufacturers. A lot of the states failed to even enforce the weakest child labor laws.

The National Child Labor Committee was fighting for strict laws and effective enforcement. Founded in 1904, it was a militant organization made up of men and women who believed that a healthy, happy, normal childhood was the rightful heritage of all children.

The NCLC wanted to ban the employment of children under fourteen years of age in most occupations, and under sixteen in dangerous trades such as mining. For all children, the NCLC demanded an eight hour day, no night work and mandatory work permits based on documentary proof of age. The NCLC also wanted compulsory school-attendance laws, but they didn't put much effort into it. It was hard enough to get honest child-labor laws passed and obeyed.

Lewis Hine once entered a textile mill to find thirty-five boys who appeared to be from nine to fourteen years of age. Some of the smallest boys said to have been working in the mill for several years. Hine discovered that they employees reported to work before dawn, hours before the manager arrived.

Textile mills were big offenders, especially in the South, where one mill worker in every four was between the ages of ten and fifteen. No one knew how many workers were actually younger than...

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