Child Labor

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Christopher Hibbert’s The English: A Social History, 1066-1945, harshly reflects child labor. The author uses graphic details to portray the horrible work environment that the children, sometimes as young as four and five, were forced to work in. Hibbert discusses in much detail the conditions the children work in, the way they are mistreated, and what was done to prevent child labor. The children work in various conditions, suffering numerous injuries. In boot factories, children are forced to sit so close together that they poke each other with needles: “many have lost an eye in this way” (595). The children work “unreasonably long hours” (595). Chimney sweepers in particular work long hours, starting at about four a.m. and working for twelve hours. These chimney sweepers sleep in bags of soot, wrapping themselves in the bags and straw. They are subjected to suffocating steam, heat, flying hot metal, and the “unhealthiest kind of grinding known” (595). Those who are employed in mills endure lung problems, scrofula, mesenteric diseases and asthma. Taking into consideration the conditions these children work in, they are obviously mistreated. They are not washed, fed or clothed, resulting in malnutrition and children “clad in rags” (597). Employers even use mistreatment to teach the children how to do their jobs. Hibbert describes that “you can’t be soft with them, you must use violence” (595). Chimney sweepers can sometimes go “fifteen months without being washed except the rain” (595), wearing the same shirt until it is worn thin. To harden the flesh of the sweepers, their elbows and knees are rubbed profusely with the strongest brine, leaving their limbs “streaming with blood” (596). Workers sometimes found themselves caught in a machine, crushed by a machine, or swung by a machine. They suffered multiple injuries that were always ignored, most of the time consequently becoming fatal. The workers were not only subjected to poor working conditions, but being mistreated within them. It wasn’t for long after laws were made that treatment of children laborers improved. Many felt strongly opposed to child labor but assumed nothing could be done. However, working conditions slowly but surely improved. Their diets became better. It became illegal to employ children in certain circumstances. Laws were passed so children were not working such long hours. They were even given off for holidays.

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