“The smallest child in the factories were scavengers……they go under the machine, while it is going……….it is very dangerous when they first come, but they become used to it.”
Charles Aberdeen worked in a Manchester cotton factory, written in 1832.
Men of business and creative inventors are lauded for their contribution to the rise of the Industrial Revolution, but their success, esteem and wealth was built on the sweat and tears of the most vulnerable of society. The strength and force of the Industrial Revolution was brought about by tiny hands with courageous hearts. They worked in squalid conditions and suffered abuse and neglect at the hands of employers, overseers and co-workers who lacked compassion and common decency. Illness and death, ever present within the walls of the cotton mills and the deep pits of the coal mines, visited the youngest most often.
The Industrial Revolution did not give birth to child labour, for children have been involved with work throughout history. Rather, industrialization was the fertile milieu that nurtured a dramatic increase in the use of children. Factories and mines required workers to complete relatively simple tasks that could easily be accomplished by children. Poverty and want produced a workforce susceptible to exploitation.
When there is progress in one area, there is progress in many areas. Where there is injustice there are those who stand firm in their commitment to humanity. For if one suffers, do we not all suffer? The plight of the child workers did not go unnoticed. Public outcry reached the ears of Queen Victoria and gave way to Parliamentary enquiries which culminated in two important pieces of legislation – the Factory Act (1833) and the Mines Act (1842).
A society is defined by individual choices, the most important being how to care for the next generation.
“Anyone who does anything to help a child in his life is a hero to me.”