Child Labor

19th Century Britain By: Summer Warren

Jobs Children Did In Factories

There were different jobs for different sized, and aged children. Most of the children that were hired were young because they could be paid less.

These are some of the jobs that a child may have had to do:


  • The smaller children had to climb underneath the machines to either clean or to fix damaged or broken machines. These children were called the scavengers.
  • Another job was to bend over and pick up the loose cotton that had fallen to the floor. It was supposedly the easiest task but after hours upon hours of bending over it gave many children back problems, the factory owners didn't allow anyone to sit and that it was strictly forbidden to rest.
  • Some children had to work on the machines making sure that the thread was correct and fixing it when it snapped and broke these children were watching the thread get weaved.
  • One other job that they had to do was weaving which also consisted of watching and making sure that the thread was going to the correct places. if it was not they then had to reach over the still working machine and fix it.

Hours, Food, and Working Conditions

To make the most profits, factory owners would do as little for children as possible. They would make them work for long hours and not worry about the health and well being of the children that were working for them.

  • In extreme cases children would have to work for around 19 hours but it was more common to see children work for about 10 to 14 hours with one break for the whole day which lasted about an hour.
  • Due to the large and heavy machinery that children worked on, under or around having injuries and being killed on the job were not uncommon;
  • Children had very little time to eat and the food that they ate wasn't very good. They often ate oatcake, potato pie, and boiled bacon and were lacking nutrition due to this and the fact that their families were very poor.
  • The air in the factories was very hot with a temperature of around 80 degrees F. This along with the loud machinery caused long-term problems with the children's health.

Accidents that often happened

Because there were large and dangerous machines that ran throughout the factory that were barely turned off having accidents wasn't a rare thing and it actually happened quite often.


  • Most of the injuries that happened were cased by hands and arms getting stuck in the machine. Sometimes just the muscles and the skin is taken off but in worse cases a whole finger is taken.
  • Apart from having exterior injuries there were also internal injuries which include hearing loss due to the loud machines and trouble breathing and seeing due to the dust and cotton in the air.
  • Although not as common as some of the other injuries being pulled up into the machine and getting crushed or pulled apart happened more so than some would think.
  • Due to the temperature and humidity problems many children got sick and passed out or they passed out due to dehydration which may have led to their death or may have led them to fall into the machines and get killed or badly injured.

Punishments children faced

Although factory owners made a lot of money off of children workers they didn't want the children to slow down or to take breaks because if they did the owners wouldn't be getting a maximum profit.

  • If a child starts to slow down they would usually be hit with a strap but if they were working slower because they were drowsy either their legs or sometimes their heads would be dunked into the water cistern.
  • Children were punished because they were late to work or because they were late on turning in any product that they had to turn in whether it be one or ten minutes.
  • If children tried to talk to help or communicate in some way to another child with his or her work both of the children would be beaten.
  • If any child was suspected of thinking of running away there would be shackles put onto their ankles and they were forced to wear them everywhere including on the way to and from work and whenever they slept.

Efforts to improve/stop child labor

People didn't notice how bad child labor actually was, the owners made it out to be a safe and simple thing and if they ever had anyone from the news or a visitor at the factory they would act like none of the beatings happened.

  • The first step to improving child labor was the Cotton Factories Regulation Act passed in 1819 by parliament, this limited the amount of time that a child could work based on their age and also said that every child had to go to school for at least 2 hours. Children of the ages 9 to 13 could only work for 8 hours. 14 to 18 years worked no more than 12 and children under the age of 9 could not work at all.
  • In 1836 the early trade unions propose a state minimum age law which recommended that all states have a minimum age for working in factories.
  • One of the most debated issues related to the decline in child labor is that jobs were being withheld from adults since it was cheaper to pay children and it was very hard for any adults to get jobs.
  • The Great Depression was a big help in improving child labor because it was during this time that many people's mind sets changed and were realizing that child labor was wrong. Having jobs become more sparse meant that people would want more educated people working for them which, in turn, cause the number of years that a child should go to school to increase.