The term child labor denotes work done by children which overtaxes
their strength and stunts their physical or mental growth. It harms them as
children and may prevent them from becoming normal adults. Child labor is
therefore objectionable for humanitarian and utilitarian reasons alike. Though
cheaper than adult labor, it is less efficient and constitutes a waste of human
and economic resources. It damages not only the child but society as a
In the United States it brought protests from many quarters, including the
churches, government, and even employers. For example, in the early 1900's
children making artificial flowers inder tenement sweatshop conditions earned 4
cents a gross or 2 cents an hour. Their miseries led ex-President Theodore
Roosevelt to write a pamphlet, 'The Conservation of Childhood.' The titles of
other pamphlets of the period include 'Child Labor and Family Disarray'; 'Christ or
Mammon'; 'The Child That Toileth Not,' a polemic against the myth that child
labor prevented idleness and deliquency; and 'The School as a Force Arrayed
Against Child Labor.'
The evils, however, persisted. As late as 1937 the
Pennsylvania bureau of women and children in a pamphlet entitled 'Children
Preferred' warned against abuses of child labor.
These abuses are hard to combat. Even when, after long delays and debates,
legislation is adopted, it is very difficult to enforce, especially in agriculture and
homework manufacture. Parents themselves have often helped sabotage reform
efforts. Hence, it has been recognized that a legislative step like the gradual raising
of the minimum age for industrial work to 14, then 15, and eventually 16 or 18 for
hazardous or especially heavy work remains only a paper improvement unless it is
accompanied by such measures guaranteeing children's maintenace as assistance to
needy families with many children, and social security programs.
Under the U.S.